The nature of the family has changed considerably in 50 post-war years. In particular, women have come to play a greater role in society, often marrying later or remaining single, and bearing fewer children. Changes in behaviour and attitudes towards marriage, marriage partners, and children, are the result of individual responses to larger shifts in Japan’s economic society.
(Changing Functions of the Family)
A family fulfills four broad functions. First, it has a production function, where members of the family earn a living together by working their own land, or in their own shops and workshops. This function is important for farming households or self-employed families. The second function is to raise and educate children. The third function is the care and support function, whereby the family looks after ageing parents or sick members of the family who cannot look after themselves. The fourth function of the family is a psychological one, where the family offers comfort and relaxation to each of its members. We investigate below how each of these family functions has changed.
(The Rise of the Salaryman and the Declining Production Function of the Family)
As the focus of Japan’s industrial structure has shifted from primary to tertiary industries, so the number of Japanese involved in farming or other small-scale family businesses has declined, whilst the number of white-collar workers or "salarymen" has increased. This has led to a growing separation of the home and workplace, with the husband working away from his family, and the wife and children ceasing to fulfill a working function in the household. In other words, the production function of the family has declined. This increase in the number of white-collar households resulted in the phenomenon of the professional housewife, which grew apace until the mid-1960s. The number of professional housewives continued to grow until roughly the mid-1980s, but has exhibited a downward trend since 1985.
(See Supplementary Figure 1: "The rise of the Salaryman and the increasing number of Professional Housewives in Japan".)
(The Trend towards Fewer Children and the Declining Education Function of the Family)
Over the post-war period, there has been a steady decline in the number of children born each year. As discussed in detail in the "1992 White Paper on the National Lifestyle," the trend towards fewer children is a result of women marrying later or remaining single. More specifically, the increasing ability of women to earn their own living in society, as a result of their growing prediliction for further education and the general advance of women in society, has raised the opportunity cost of having children.
If we compare the average number of children borne by a woman over her lifetime in Japan (the Fertility Birth Rate) with the average number of children per married woman (using the figures for women married for 15-19 years who are assumed to have finished their child-bearing years), two points become clear. First, the tendency for married women to have two children remains unchanged, and second, the overall trend towards fewer children is increasing. (See Figure I-3-2.) Thus, the family function of raising and educating children plays a smaller role than before.
(Urbanization and the Declining Care & Support Function of the Family)
The urbanization of Japanese society, accompanied by the rise of the white-collar worker, has been followed more recently by the ageing of Japanese society. The proportion of old people in the Japanese population was 7% in 1970 and will rise to 14.5% in 1995, whilst the proportion of old people living with their children is declining. In 1990, of households containing at least one person aged over 65 (the broad definition of old households), the combined proportion of two-generation households (elderly parents and their children) and three-generation households (elderly parents, their children, and grandchildren) was roughly 60%, down from 90% in 1960.
Also, a breakdown of the income of households composed only of old people shows that elderly parents receive little financial support from their children, implying more generally that the care and support function of a family becomes more difficult when its elements live apart. Indeed, it is developments in modern society of this kind which necessitated the institution of a national pension system.
One further indicator of the declining care and support function of the family is to be found in the proportion of old people spending their final years at home, which has steadily fallen over the post-war era. Meanwhile, the proportion of old people spending that period in hospital has steadily increased, first exceeding the "home" proportion in 1977. (See Figure I-3-5.)
(Limits to the Spread of the Nuclear Family)
The rise of the nuclear family is often noted as a characteristic of the post-war era. However, this is potentially misleading, since the percentage of nuclear households already stood at 54.0% in 1920, and, although the absolute number of nuclear households has increased in the post-ware era, the proportion of such households has not increased over the long term. Indeed, with the rise in single person households, the proportion of nuclear households has actually begun to decline slightly. (See Figure I-3-6.)
(How the New Family Environment has Affected Attitudes)
Let us now consider what functions of the family people have considered important at two points in time, namely 1972 and 1995. Although a direct comparison is difficult due to differences in methodology and wording, 16.2% of men and 18.7% of women selected "raising children" as an important family function in 1972, whilst in 1995, even though multiple responses were allowed, the percentages fell to 10.9% and 10.8% respectively. In other words, both attitudes and statistics confirm the relative decline of "raising children" as a family function.
As the economic, child-raising, and care and support functions of the family decline, so there is an increasing emphasis on the psychological function of the family as a source of comfort and relaxation. For example, the percentage of wives in "love marriages"l gradually rose from a mere 20% in 1949 to 87% in 1991. That "love marriages" have now become the norm in Japanese society is just one indicator of the new emphasis on the psychological function of the family. (See Ministry of Health and Welfare, "The Demographic Survey on Japanese Marriage (1983)," and "The Socio-Economic Survey of Vital Statistics (1991).")
Let us first look at some of the reasons why people may decide to get married.
On the one hand, the potential benefits of marriage include, economic stability of lifestyle, the attainment of social respectability, the bearing and raising of children, and living with somebody one loves. On the other hand, the decision to get married also has potential costs under Japan’s existing social structure. For men, looking after a wife and children, means less disposable income for oneself. For a woman, individual disposable income is similarly reduced by getting married, since she must temporarily or permanently stop working. She must also bear the burden of household work. These factors influencing the marriage decision, and people’s attitudes towards them, are currently in a process of change.
Regarding the change in people’s attitudes towards marriage, the EPA’s 1992 "National Survey on Lifestyle Preferences" surveyed unmarried young men and women on what they saw as the most important characteristic of a potential marriage partner, and what they thought the opposite sex saw as the most important characteristic in a marriage partner. Whilst 80.6% of single women in their 20s and 30s responded that "a compatible character" was most important, only 46.8% of single men in this age group gave the same answer. This implies that men do not understand what women want from marriage. Also, whereas 59.0% of single women in their 20s and 30s felt that, "Women and men should should have an equal chance to work," only 37.3% of single men felt the same way. In other words, men have not yet come to terms with the change in women’s attitudes.
(The Trend towards Later Marriage and Single Lifestyles)
The proportion of unmarried people in the Japanese population is still small, but the trend is upwards. (See Figure I-3-9.) By 1990, the proportion of unmarried people in the 45-49 age range (who are expected to remain permanently single) had roughly tripled since 1950 to 4.5% for women and 1.5% for men.
(The Conspicuous Rise in the Divorce Rate amongst Young People)
The rising divorce rate amongst middle-aged and old people has recently received much attention. Certainly, if one considers divorce statistics based on the wife’s age, this is true. For example, between 1980 and 1994, the number of women in their 40s getting divorced rose both in absolute terms, from 24,000 to 46,000, and as a proportion of all women, from 17.0% to 23.6%. However, there is a demographic distortion at work here, namely that many of the people contributing to these divorce statistics belong roughly to the post-war "baby boomer" generation, and therefore to a populous generation, amongst which the marriage rate was abnormally high.
Consequently, in order to look at recent trends in the divorce rate amongst middle-aged and old people, we need to analyse the available data in more detail. In particular, although divorce obviously only occurs amongst married couples, the raw divorce rate includes unmarried individuals in the denominator and ignores the different generation structure of different age groups. Thus, it is important to break down the population into cohort groups (those people born in the same period), and for each cohort group to consider the number of divorces as a percentage of the married population for each age group. This method reveals that the divorce rate for middle-aged and old people (i.e. in the same cohort group) has not increased over time, but that, generally speaking, the younger the cohort group, the higher the divorce rate. (See Figure I-3-11.)
(Post-war Professional Housewives and the Trend to Female Participation in the Workforce)
The male/female imbalance in the population, the increasing popularity of higher education, changes in the employment structure, and the greater participation of women in the workforce are important factors underlying the trend in Japanese society toward individuals remaining single or marrying late, and the rising divorce rate. The number of professional housewives increased significantly in the post-war period, but women are now beginning to participate in the workforce again. Also, the salaries of full-time female workers are increasing, and the wage differential between men and women is gradually decreasing.
As a result of the greater participation of women in the workforce, the costs of marriage in terms of foregone income are increasing. At the same time, improvements in the Japanese pension system mean that the opportunity costs of remaining single are declining. Consequently, the number of unmarried individuals is rising, and people’s attitudes are moving towards acceptance of both single lifestyles and divorce.
(The Growing Belief in Equal Opportunity)
The belief in equality between men and women is growing as a result of the advance of higher education and the greater participation of women in the workforce.
The division of household labour is also undergoing change. All in all, the mentality according to which, "Husbands go out to work, and wives look after the home," is on the decline. (See Figure I-3-21.) According to NHK’s "Cross-National Comparison of Japanese Time Use," the weekly time contribution of working men to household work is increasing, but is still far smaller than in the United States or Europe. Also, in international comparison, the wage differential between men and women remains far larger in Japan than in the US or Europe. If we look at the relationship between male/female cooperation in household work and the male/female wage differential, it is clear that the smaller a country’s male/female wage differential, the greater the degree of cooperation in household work. (See Figure I-3-26.) Thus, there would seem to be a relationship between the division of household work and the differential in male/female earning power.
Children once played an economic role in the household, looked after their parents, and inherited the family house. However, children have lost their economic function, and parents now see children above all as "a source of happiness" in the household. (See Prime Minister’s Office, "1993 Public Opinion Survey on Youth and the Family".)
In former times, when the role of the family in society was clear and the opportunities for social mobility were small, the expectations a family held of its children were also clear. However, in the modern age, the requirements of children in a family are no longer clear, and thus there is no concept of what is sufficient. In the era of the salaryman, it is becoming difficult to find any a clear objectives which a child "needs to achieve". Thus, the expectations of modern parents who desire "their children’s happiness" are probably far higher than those of parents in years past.
Happy are those children whose own aspirations match those of their parents for them, but often children are unable to match parental expectations.
(A New Diversity in the Japanese Family)
Considerable diversity has entered into the Japanese family in 50 post-war years. As a result of the declining production function of the family and the new division of labour amongst family members, there is less mutual cooperation than before. There is also less common ground between husbands and wives, and between parents and children. Nevertheless, human beings are not solitary creatures and it is in the context of a household that they seek the love of other human beings and the comfort of their family. Thus, one way that families seek to preserve the bonds amongst their members is through spending on family activities, like family travel and festivals. According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Goverment’s "1993 Public Opinion Survey on Urban Lifestyle", active participation in traditional festivals such as New Year, the Spring Setsubun Festival and the O-Bon Festival, is high. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, and other more modern celebrations also help bring families together.
(See Figure I-3-38.)
Affluence has brought a new diversity to the Japanese family, and increased the opportunities open to individuals. The new, affluent lifestyle of the Japanese people must not be seen as a source of confusion, rather grasped as a source of opportunity. As for the role of government, this must be to give individuals a greater freedom of opportunity, by for example ensuring that the social security system does not prevent the participation of women in the workforce.
The real wages of American men grew steadily until the 1960s, more slowly in the 1970s, and have declined since the 1980s. (See Supplementary Figure 2: "Slower growth in the real wages of American males, and their decline since the 1980s.") Against this background, American women have sought a more affluent lifestyle, and women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s in particular have become active participants in the business world in managerial and specialist positions. Although they did not possess the necessary skills in the early years, full-time work helped build those skills, and the number of women in managerial and specialist positions has increased significantly, as has the ability of those women to earn high wages.
American women entered the business world in pursuit of a more affluent lifestyle, and have become stronger as a result of that participation.
If real wages in Japan also begin to decrease, a similar phenomenon can be expected in Japan in the near future. The number of women applying to junior college in Japan is decreasing, and more and more are setting their sights on technical colleges and universities, in particular social science departments. In the future, the number of women taking up managerial and specialist positions in the Japanese workforce is likely to increase, and the male/female wage differential to decline.
These developments will bring about important changes in the relationship between men and women in Japan, and in the nature of the Japanese family.
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