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As research accumulates on senior citizens in contemporary Japan, it is becoming increasingly clear that the elderly cannot be grouped into a single category. Rather, they should be grouped based on such characteristics as values, behavior, interests, and lifestyle.

When senior citizens are thus categorized, people often are curious about the similarities between husbands and wives. This led us to conduct a survey of older married couples in Japan. Responding to our November 2016 online poll were 860 married couples, between the ages of 55 and 74.

We analyzed the responses based on a senior citizen classification system developed by the Video Research Human Research Center’s Aging Laboratory team of researchers who are studying senior citizens.

Taking into account such factors as recommended above, the laboratory designed a classification system for categorizing elderly people, whose ways of thinking and behaving are diverse and complex. Accordingly, the elderly were categorized into six groups.

The diagram below categorizes the groups according to whether they tend to be active or inactive, traditional and conservative or progressive and outgoing.

Chart 1. Senior Citizen Classification System

Active and traditional

These senior citizens, who are physically active and have a variety of interests, have a strong sense of family values. Most live a comfortable retired life with enough money to meet their needs and plenty of spare time. They can be described as being active seniors.

Keep up with the times

This refers to senior citizens who are passionate about following fashion trends and are well informed about the latest ideas, products and services. Aware also of anti-aging products available, they strive to recapture their youth and beauty. Such individuals, never before seen in Japan, might be termed a new category of active seniors.

Social and independent

These seniors value their social networks, desire new friends and acquaintances, and seek interaction with people regardless of age. They, too, belong to the new category of active seniors.

Satisfied and conservative

Such senior citizens are content with their current lifestyle and have few ambitions beyond that. They make no strong demands and lead a quiet life. Such individuals come closest to the generally held Japanese view of what elderly people are like.

Resigned and realistic

These seniors, generally with limited financial resources, tend to have a feeling of resignation about their lives as a result of their limited spending power. Even when money is not an issue, they are reluctant to spend because they are anxious about the future.

Anxious yet eager

The senior citizens in this group, anxious that they may be left out of society, are on the lookout for better ways in which they can live out their final years. They have a deep desire to connect with people and their communities, but often lack the means or skills to do so.

More details (in Japanese only) about the senior citizen classification system are available on the following webpage:

You can also determine how you fit in the senior citizen classification system by using the checklist (in Japanese only) on the following webpage:

Most elderly spouses are similar

There are six categories listed above in the senior citizen classification system we used, so there are 36 possible combinations of husband–wife categories.

When we examined the survey results, however, we found that 55 percent of the married couples could be classified as having the same characteristics. In other words, over half of elderly spouses in Japan appear to be similar categories of people.

From the pie chart below, the results can be seen in greater detail. Among the couples that shared the same classification, most common was the satisfied and conservative category of spouse, followed by the anxious yet eager, resigned and realistic, and the active and traditional categories.

Chart 2. Classification of Married Couples (Breakdown of Husband and wife same category)

Further, we found that the theoretical probability of a husband and wife being in the same category is over 20 percent. We arrived at this estimate based on the number of respondents per category in our survey, and calculated according to the formula below.

Probability That Husband and Wife Share the Same Category

* Based on the number of respondents in each category according to answers to the survey question, “Which of the six categories do you believe best describes you?”

Chart 3. Probability Married Couples Are Different/Same Categories

In the married couples we surveyed, more than half the spouses shared the same categories, which suggests that elderly spouses are likely to be similar.

I believe there are two reasons for that. First, the couples may have been likeminded people right from the start. Second, if the spouses were different from each other when they first met, over time they probably influenced each other and grew more alike.

Looking at the first explanation, it should be noted that, although marriages traditionally have been arranged in Japan, love-based marriages predominated in the late 1960s (according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research). That social turning point had a significant impact, and is when many people now in their early seventies, would have married.

In the days when most people’s marriages were arranged, they generally were based on considerations other than the wishes of the bride and groom. We can thus hypothesize—since our survey did not target people over the age of 74—that the likelihood of the newlyweds being likeminded people was relatively low.

But today’s senior citizens today in Japan married at a time when it was possible to choose one’s marriage partner. Compared with previous generations, it would have been much easier for them to find partners who, from the start, shared similar values, interests, desires, and so on.

The second explanation comes from one of the survey respondents —a 64–year-old woman, classified as being of the anxious and eager category—who wrote that she accepts everything about her husband because she has been with him for so many years.

During meetings we had previously held with senior citizens, it was not uncommon for a participant to say how similar he or she was to his or her spouse, even while talking casually or complaining about the relationship.

One participant once told us that her face had recently begun to resemble that of her husband. This calls to mind two old Japanese sayings: a husband and wife are two of a kind; and spouses are as close as cousins.

Non-matching spouses often satisfied and conservative, anxious yet eager

It is also interesting to look at spouses who, in our survey, were categorized as being in different categories. Among them, the most common pairing was of the satisfied and conservative category with the anxious yet eager.

These spouses account for over 10 percent of all couples. Some 6.3 percent of couples comprise a satisfied and conservative husband and an anxious yet eager wife, while 4.7 percent have an anxious yet eager husband with a satisfied and conservative wife.

The next most common pairing is the active and traditional category with the anxious yet eager category, accounting for almost five percent of the married couples. They are followed by three pairings, all of which are in the four-percent range: keep up with the times category with the anxious yet eager; resigned and realistic with anxious yet eager; and resigned and realistic with satisfied and conservative. All other combinations account for under three percent of the total, as can be seen from the pie chart below.

Chart 4. Classification of Married Couples (Breakdown of Husband and wife different category)

Incidentally, the least common pairing of couples is that of the keep up with the times and satisfied and conservative categories, which accounted for just 0.9 percent of the survey total. Possibly the most active and inactive, respectively, among the categories, it seems that these types of people have a hard time falling in love.

For more information about the survey, please contact Yumiko Tsushima at the following email address:

The Human Research Center’s Video Research Aging Laboratory

This laboratory conducts research projects on the elderly with the aim of stimulating Japan’s senior citizens’ market.

Making use of marketing campaigns targeting older consumers, the laboratory handles research projects, publishes its findings, and offers consulting on corporate marketing to senior citizens.

Human Research Center website (in Japanese only):

Yumiko Tsushima

Yumiko Tsushima

Chief Researcher
Human Research Center
Video Research Ltd.



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