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Retired Husband Syndrome
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Retired Husband Syndrome: The Japanese Social Condition
I have known about this issue for a few years now, and I thought that the Wiki is a great platform to share this.
The Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS) is a stress-related and psychosomatic medical illness that is suffered by married older women, more applicably housewives, in Japan. Common symptoms of RHS include depression, vomiting and high blood pressure. As the name suggests, this illness is triggered by the retirement of their husbands from the workforce, causing them to spend more time with their husbands. It is estimated to afflict 60% of the elder generation of Japanese women.(Kenyon, 2006)
RHS is suffered only by married women from the baby-boomer generation (i.e born in 1944- 1953). The birth of RHS, I think, is created by due to the fact that these women mostly married and have families during the post-war period. This is the point of time where the government rapidly endorsed the famous Japanese Management System (JMS) to rescue their economy, and thus their husbands work under this new form of labour institution.
JMS serves to work by giving workers (called ‘Salaryman’) benefits like lifetime employment and corporate welfare. In exchange for job security, all the more attractive during the post-war period, men are expected to work extremely hard and be loyal to their company. This meant that their husbands typically work extremely long hours and dedicate most of their time working for their company. As a result of infrequent interaction and long hours away from home, these Salaryman become strangers to their wives. When their husbands retire, these women find themselves thrown into the presence of their husbands 24/7. The change in lifestyle they are accustomed to cause them to develop physical ailments and mental trauma(Faiola, 2005).
As its effects is observable only in Japanese society, I therefore believe that is in an indication that social settings do play a part in determining the way different genders interact with one another. RHS can be therefore be seen as a cultural-bound phenomenon fuelled by Japan’s social structure. The existence of this syndrome challenges the conventional idea of mutual affection in marriage and is reflective of how the state’s economic structure has influenced the social lives of married couples.
However, it is not just the JMS that created such a social situation; other factors played a critical role in the development of RHS. For example, many of RHS-patients firmly do not consider divorce as an appropriate solution as this would mean a loss of their pension and income (though this problem has been rectified by law already). Also, divorce is still a cultural taboo and is seen as unacceptable to traditional Japanese families.
Also, another driver behind RHS is the fact that Japan is a highly gendered society where women are expected to follow the Ryosei Kenbo (good wife, wise mother) philosophy. This meant that they are required to conform to the role of a complying, dutiful obedient house wife (think the Asian Stepford Wife here). Their retired husbands’ expectation of their subservience for every waking, and probably sleeping, moment of their lives may cause them a lot of stress.
Though RHS is a cultural-bound syndrome, there are still similar parallels found throughout other societies, particularly in Asia. For example, during the holiday seasons, such as New Year, many housewives in South Korea suffer from what is termed as ‘Holiday Syndrome’. Traditionally, they are expected to play the roles of cook, hostess, wife and mother to perfection, and the inevitable large amount of stress they undertake during that period cause them to fall ill.
Also, in the United States, it has been suggested that a similar condition called the Retired Spouse Syndrome (RSS) exist(Trafford, 2005). The RSS is also triggered by retirement of the spouse and loss of independence in marriage partners. However, unlike the RHS in Japan, RSS affects both male and female.
The big question is, will the RHS persist in Japan in future generation? I have come to the conclusion that it may not. The rates of divorce in senior citizens have been rapidly on the rise, almost tripling from 1994 to 2004(Sakura Shinagawa Salon, 2009), indicating that perhaps more and more women are willing to break out of their roles as subservient wife. Also, given the economic restructure by the Japanese Government away from JMS, and the fact that the rising number of women in Japan holding professional or full-time jobs, this meant that women’s roles in society have been shifting away from one that is limited to the domestic sphere to one where they can achieve financial independence. The independence of women and the rejection of a non-affectionate marriage would prevent RHS from occurring in the future. Indeed, Japan will have more worrying problems instead.
*There is also a BBC documentary by Paul Kenyon on this titled This World: Retired Husband Syndrome
Faiola, A. (2005, October 17). Sick of Their Husbands in Graying Japan. Retrieved February 9, 2011, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/16/AR2005101601145.html
Kenyon, P. (2006, November 13). Retired Husband Syndrome. Retrieved February 3, 2010, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/this_world/6143010.stm
Sakura Shinagawa Salon. (2009). Retrieved February 4, 2011, from Sakura Salon: http://www.sakura-salon.jp/service/remarriage.html
Trafford, A. (2005, October 25). When Spouse Retires, Real Work Begins. Retrieved February 4, 2011, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/24/AR2005102402019.html
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