Divorce and Stem Family Household Organization in Early Modern Japan

Satomi Kurosu, Harvard University and Reitaku University

This study examines the patterns and factors of divorce in eighteenth and nineteenth century Japan drawing data from the local population registers in two northeastern agricultural villages, 1716-1870. Almost half of the first marriages of these peasants dissolved in divorce before they reached age 50, surpassing the proportion becoming widows and widowers. Event history analysis reveals that having a child, or having obtained household headship, significantly reduced the risk of divorce. Different mechanisms were at work for patrilocal vs. matrilocal marriages. Economic hardship and non-intact stem family, for example, significantly increased the risk of divorce but only for patrilocal marriage, while conjugal relationship was the dominant factor for matrilocal marriage. The findings suggest the importance of the practice of divorce in individual life course as well as in achieving the collective goals of peasant families.

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Presented in Session 71: Asian and Asian-American Families in Historical Perspective