How Divorced Females Have Lived: Single Mothers’ Strategies for Old Age after Child-raising

published: 2014-07-01Japanese


I am a divorced single mother who has two sons in their twenties. I have been conducting research on how divorced single mothers who finish child-raising have lived including the relationship with their adult child(ren) and how they are going to live in their old age. Although we tend to think that all single mothers are in single-female-parent households it is not necessarily so by definition. According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, single-female-parent households are “households in which mothers raise their child(ren) under 20 years of age.” What this means is that households in which the child(ren) whose age is more than 20 as in my case are no longer called as single-female-parent households. However, it is not actually so easy to divide by age of the child(ren).

Severity of living of single-female-parent households has been pointed out by a lot of research, survey results, and media coverage. According to the Nationwide Survey on Fatherless Families conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in fiscal year 2011, the estimated number of single-female-parent households is about 1.24 million households. About 80% of the reasons for becoming single-female-parent households are by divorce. In the Survey it is also found that although more than 80% of mothers in single-female-parent households work, the average income of the households (including income of all relatives living together) is less than half of the average one of households with an unmarried child (or children) under 18 years of age (including one-person households, households consisting of married couples and an unmarried child (or children), and three-generation households).


Although it is work that supports lives, single mothers who finish child-raising have difficulty earning necessary income to make a living by work. That is, there are issues of wage gaps between males and females and increase of irregular employment by “gender norms of labour division by gender roles that females are (or should be) economically supported by males.” Divorce makes females with a child (or children) move from non-working dependents to supporters and work by their grownup child(ren) causes many of mothers to be non-supporters. However, as long as single mothers are not non-working dependents, they have to live with the issue of work as stated above.

Divorce has also some influence on living of old-aged females. According to the “White Paper on Gender Equality 2011” conducted by the Cabinet Office, concerning single -senior-citizen (65 years old or above) households with the annual income of less than 1.2 million yen, the percentage of single-senior-female households is 23.7% compared to 17% of single-senior-male households. In particular, the percentage of senior-single-female households by divorce shows a higher rate of 32.5%.

As seen from the above the economic condition that supports divorced females' living can be understood by the following frameworks of households in certain condition—single-female-parent households and senior-single-female households by divorce. However, it is not easy to say that these two grasp the reality enough. Even if regulation of work and income can be shown by figures, it is difficult to look at the truth of living which changes with the flow of time.

Therefore, I have been trying to clarify livings of divorced single mothers who finish child-raising, especially focusing on how their relationship with their adult child(ren) is, and how they are going to live through the whole life course including old age. Now I conduct interview surveys targeting single mothers from 50s to 70s who finish child-raising.

In this research I am not going to show only the current conditions of divorced females who finish child-raising, and furthermore, who are aged females. Rather, by listening to their narratives I would like to redefine selections and ingenuities made in their living practices (e.g., securing of their work and living places, child-raising and relationship with a child (or children), relationship with parents of single mothers and their sisters/brothers, and relationship with the surroundings) as ”strategy” for females' raising their child(ren) and living in their old age. Then I would like to make a proposal for what is/are necessary.

In order to do so I think it is necessary to clarify the position of divorced single females who finish child-raising. How have systems and policies concerning maternal and child welfare treated single-female-parent households, especially ones as a result of lifelong separation such as divorce, and mothers in the households? And how have females been positioned in issues of work relating to economic resources for old age and life security by public pension? Especially, how have divorced single females who finish child-raising been treated? Showing those transitions is my current research challenge.

TANIMURA Hitomi Global COE Program for Ars Vivendi

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Graduate School of Core Ethics & Frontier Sciences at Ritsumeikan University

Institute of Human Sciences at Ritsumeikan University


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