Japan's Parental Leave Policy: Has It Affected Gender Ideology and Child Care Norms in Japan? Japanese Caregivers and Parents Believe That Current Policies and Ongoing Workplace Realities Do Nothing to Alleviate the Pressures Parents, Especially Fathers, Feel, Both in Themselves and from Society

By Morrone, Michelle Henault; Matsuyama, Yumi | Childhood Education, August 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Japan's Parental Leave Policy: Has It Affected Gender Ideology and Child Care Norms in Japan? Japanese Caregivers and Parents Believe That Current Policies and Ongoing Workplace Realities Do Nothing to Alleviate the Pressures Parents, Especially Fathers, Feel, Both in Themselves and from Society


Morrone, Michelle Henault, Matsuyama, Yumi, Childhood Education


Despite the opportunities for Japanese women and men to gain equal access to education and careers and the increasingly positive image of the house-helpful father, contemporary Japanese fathers do not, by any measure, contribute to child care and family life to the degree that mothers do. While this may be attributable in some degree to lingering traditional notions surrounding role segregation in Japanese culture, especially in regard to child rearing (Nishioka-Rice, 2001; White, 1987), the current economic difficulties and inadequate government and corporate support may play an even larger part. The Japanese caregivers and parents we interviewed believe that current government policies and ongoing workplace realities do nothing to alleviate the pressures that parents, especially fathers, feel, both in themselves and from society, to adhere to what, on the surface, appears to be more traditional gender-defined roles. This article addresses the pressures that keep fathers from taking on more child care responsibilities in spite of societal changes that show increasing acceptance of an expanded paternal role. In order to better describe the present situation that young couples face in Japan regarding parental leave, we have integrated existing studies with our own study that interviewed 30 newly married couples regarding: 1) How they envisioned the role of contemporary mothers and fathers; 2) How companies supported dual parent paid leaves, and whether either had taken advantage of parental-leave policies; and 3) The actual situation of fathers taking on more child care and home-care roles.

Paternity Leave Policy

The 1990s Japanese economic downturn pushed more women into the workplace and is commonly believed to have contributed to Japan's declining birthrate. In response, the Japanese government sent parents a seemingly conflicting message: "For the economic health of the country, work hard ... and have a lot of children while you're at it!" Such policies as the "Angel Plan" were created to offer subsidies to parents who have more than one child, and parental leave options for both women and men were developed to motivate young workers to remain in the workforce.

Since 1992, Japanese residents have been entitled to take advantage of laws that provide for maternal and paternal leave at up to 60% of full salary. The legislation was inspired by Scandinavian models that had successfully addressed demographic imbalances in those countries by encouraging young women to have children and yet stay in the workforce (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], 2006). The Japanese government created a new policy termed "Kodomo to Kazoku wo Ouen-suru Nippon" [A Child- and Family-Supportive Japan] (Naikakufu, 2007), and related government pamphlets often included an image of a father pushing a stroller or holding a baby.

By law, both genders are equally entitled to take as much as one year off from work with job guarantees, and up to three years off if they work in the government sector. The salary during this time is full pay for the first two months, decreasing to 60% over time, depending on the type of job.

Lesson From Other Societies Considered

Studies in other societies indicate the degree to which culture affects the implementation of family-oriented legislation. It has been suggested, for example, that an unequal distribution of parental leave can be attributed to such things as the economic disparity between parents and a particular society's expectations about the person considered most suitable to raise the child (Boyer & Renouard, 2003). For Swedish parents, the use of leave is greatly influenced by both parental incomes, but particularly by the father's income (Sundstrom & Duvander, 2001). Regarding non-economic factors, Almqvist, in her comparison of Swedish and French fathers, found that French fathers are more likely to think in accordance with traditional notions of masculinity, whereas Swedish fathers have created for themselves a child-oriented masculinity (Almqvist, 2008). …

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Japan's Parental Leave Policy: Has It Affected Gender Ideology and Child Care Norms in Japan? Japanese Caregivers and Parents Believe That Current Policies and Ongoing Workplace Realities Do Nothing to Alleviate the Pressures Parents, Especially Fathers, Feel, Both in Themselves and from Society
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