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Can’t Get Married? Imagining Families from the Irregular Labour Market

Sun, June 26, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: BF, 011


“Before, when I said I was ‘a man that can't get married’ (kekkon dekinai otoko), I was always joking, but these days I am really starting to worry that it’s true” (Takeshi, 35-year-old irregular employee). For many in Japan, marriage continues to signify the formation of family. Yet, men in irregular employment marry at significantly lower rates than their full-time working contemporaries (Cabinet Office 2011). Marriage prospects for men are mediated by their structural position in the labour market, but also through gendered moral discussions and expectations relating to male responsibilities to both the state and the family. Debates about men working part-time have suggested that doing such labour can be understood to be representative of a weak character, or of a man that is yet to grow up, or a man that is unwilling to take responsibility for others, or someone that is unable (by choice or circumstance) to provide the kind of financial stability that is considered desirable in marriage. This paper explores how men at the heart of such debates envisage and imagine future families, how their ideas are influenced by class, education, and future aspirations, and how they attempted to convince others of their moral – and manly – worth. I argue that whilst precarious irregular labour could provide a space for transformation and emancipation from existing gender (and gender role) configurations within intimate relationships (Vij 2013), precarity can also lead to an entrenchment of gender role expectations in imagining future family formation.