TOKYO (Reuters) - The proportion of Japanese men in their 20s who want to marry has slumped, with many citing their income not meeting women's expectations as a reason not to tie the knot, think tank research showed.
With a dip in the rate for women as well and it still being relatively rare for children to be born out of wedlock in Japan, the figures point to a potential obstacle for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's key policy of boosting the nation's low birth rate.
The survey showed 38.7 percent of single Japanese men in their 20s who were polled said they wanted to marry as soon as possible or wanted to marry eventually, down from 67.1 percent three years ago.
"More than half of single women want their spouses to earn at least 4 million yen ($38,000) a year. Meanwhile, only 15.2 percent of single men in their 20s earn 4 million yen or more," the report for a Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance affiliate said.
"This gap seems to be one of the reasons for more people not marrying at all or marrying late."
The data comes as Abe campaigns for an election for the upper house on July 10, playing up his economic policy and promising steps to raise the fertility rate.
Abe's government wants to raise the birth rate to 1.8 per woman from 1.4, which is still below 2.1 - the rate needed to prevent a population from shrinking.
For single women in their 20s, the rate fell to 59 percent from 82.2 percent over the same period, the survey said.
The rates of single Japanese men and women in their 30s who want to marry also fell by more than 10 percentage points to 40.3 percent and 45.7 percent, respectively, the data showed.
Japan's population is projected to fall around a third to 87 million in 2060, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research says.
The pension system is creaking under the growing number of elderly and the low birth rate, as a smaller working population need to shoulder a growing number of retirees.
While some economists have applauded Abe for putting birth rates on the agenda, others warn the government has fallen so far behind on the population issue that it will be difficult to raise economic growth without opening up to large-scale immigration.
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Alison Williams