When I first moved to Japan, I was surprised to hear generally reticent 50-something housewives get very animated on the subject of their soon-to-retire husbands and tell us how much they were looking forward to life without them. Quotes like: "My husband is a part of me but at the same time his existence is like air."
Then the "Narita divorce" started making the news. Of course it is not uncommon for retirees to plan "the big trip" to start a new life. But increasingly somewhere on the way to or from Tokyo's Narita airport the couple, or usually the wife, decides that separate lives will make them happier. And now we hear middle-aged women saying that divorce will soon be even more attractive as a new law in April will allow a divorced woman to gain 50% of her husband's pension and assets.
Now keep in mind that a typical Tokyo woman who reaches 60 lives to be 93 years old. Her husband also has nearly 25 years of healthy living to go after age 60. And the couple will retire on what are by global standards the world's richest pensions. The average Japanese in the next five to 10 years will retire with a pension fund that's 40% larger than the average American retiree. All those decades of saving will pay off. But remember too that couple spent those decades barely seeing each other, with the "salary man" husband usually leaving home at 6 a.m. each day and getting home at midnight. No wonder they have so little in common.
In December, McCann undertook a detailed study of Japanese couples about to enter retirement and came away with some telling findings. "Want to travel together?" Only 56% of husbands said yes, but then 54% of wives said no way. "Should you have separate lives?" 72% of wives said yes, and so did 50% of their husbands. "Are you excited about life with your partner after retirement?" Forty-one percent of the men and just 31% of women said yes.
This new independence is leading to lots of demand for singles housing, new types of travel packages and even new mortgages as newly "single" women team up with their single adult daughters to buy new homes together.
Dave McCaughan is exec VP-director of strategic planing at McCann Erickson and a Tokyo-based trendspotter