Making Our Own Destiny: Single Women, Opportunity, and Family in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo

Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824889968
Published: March 2022
Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824891985
Published: December 2022

Additional Information

254 pages
  • About the Book
  • In East Asia’s largest cities, hundreds of thousands of women remain single into middle age and beyond, giving rise to a demographic transformation with profound implications for their societies. Labeled in the media as “loser dogs” and “parasites” in Japan and “leftover women” in mainland China and Hong Kong, single women in East Asia are criticized for being choosy, selfish, and overly independent. Based on ethnographic research and interviews with more than a hundred single women in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, Making Our Own Destiny is the first study to comprehensively compare the views and experiences of single women living in these three great cities—cities that stand at the forefront of the region’s movement toward later marriage and rising singlehood.

    This well-researched book explores how single women attempt to take advantage of unprecedented opportunities for success in education and work while navigating marriage and family expectations. Unlike their counterparts in Europe and North America, many do not have romantic partners and most do not have children. What do these women want? How do they see themselves and their place in society? What are their values, goals, and dreams? As they work to balance opportunities with expectations, single women in urban East Asia find themselves deeply embedded in the caregiving systems of their societies. In Shanghai, author Lynne Nakano finds single women rushing to marry to enter intergenerational relationships of care. In Hong Kong, they consider the risks of marriage as they tend to the needs of natal and extended families. In Tokyo, many single women hope to marry to have children while others find a place for themselves in their families as elder caregivers.

    Nakano’s intimate portrayals not only expose meticulously planned family strategies gone awry, engagements broken, and careers abandoned, but also highlight the experiences of women embracing the joys of remaining single. Hers is a fascinating study of modern women finding meaning in their lives while offering an insightful glimpse into the future of urban families in an age of low fertility and long transitions into adulthood.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Lynne Y. Nakano, Author

      Lynne Y. Nakano is professor of Japanese studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Making Our Own Destiny draws on extensive interview and participant-observation data to explore what it means to be a never-married single woman in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. How these cities are converging or diverging in relation to marriage postponement and single womanhood is an intriguing and timely topic to explore. The book makes a significant contribution to the anthropological literatures on gender, marriage, and family, and interjects an East Asian perspective to narratives about sociocultural transformations in the global context of neoliberal capitalism and modernity.
      —Arianne Gaetano, Auburn University
    • This is a fascinating anthropological study. Lynne Nakano provides nuanced accounts of single women in three East Asian cities and skillfully reveals how their caregiving roles define their moral status in significant ways. Rather than representing the women as powerless victims or autonomous agents, Nakano takes a balanced approach and uncovers the meaningfulness of their actions and choices embedded in local and broader structures. In doing so, she refutes the stereotypical view of singlehood as a form of resistance to marriage in the three cities.
      —Satsuki Kawano, University of Guelph, Ontario