Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Separate Spheres or Increasing Equality? Changing Gender Beliefs in Postwar Japan

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Separate Spheres or Increasing Equality? Changing Gender Beliefs in Postwar Japan

Article excerpt

This research investigates change in gender beliefs in Japan during a period of economic hard times in the late 1990s. Using data from the International Social Survey Programme on the Japanese population from 1994 (n = 1,054) and 2002 (n = 872), we examined how cohort replacement and intracohort change contributed to changes in gender beliefs. We found important differences from the patterns of change reported for many Western countries, namely, a decoupling between societal trends in the female labor force participation rate and beliefs about gender. Such differences may be attributable to factors such as the high societal valuation of the housewife role compared to that in other postindustrial countries and sanctions against full-time employment for women in Japan.

Key Words: Asian families, cohort, gender, sociohistorical change.

Japan has undergone dramatic social, political, and economic changes since the early 20th century (see, e.g., Gordon, 2003). Prior to World War II, the Ie family system organized daily life. Characterized by Confucian filial obligation, an inheritance system loosely based on primogeniture and the exit of adult daughters from the family of origin upon marriage, this patriarchal system allowed women to have some power within their households, but they had no property rights and were officially subservient to their husbands (Ochiai, 1997). Following WWH, Japan was occupied until 1952, during which time a new Constitution was implemented by the U.S. Occupation authorities. Japan's constitution officially established equal rights for women, including the right to vote. After this and until the 1970s, Japan experienced record economic growth, averaging 10% a year. These dramatic changes in the political, economic, and social systems of Japan resulted in strikingly different contexts for socialization in the development of beliefs about gender across cohorts. Japanese born in the postwar period experienced a social context that was significantly different than that of the earlier period.

In this paper, we examine how these different contexts for socialization shaped the gender beliefs held by individuals in different historical periods and how these historical residues in gender beliefs have changed Japan in the postwar period. Specifically, we analyze beliefs about gender in different segments of the population defined by birth cohort, gender, and (among women) employment history. We examine for different segments of the population how much of the total change in gender beliefs occurring in Japan in the 1990s and early 21st century is attributable to cohort replacement and how much is attributable to intracohort change (e.g., period effects) during this time.

Gender Beliefs and Gender Equality

Gender beliefs are important because they are one piece of the narrative of increasing gender equality in a society (the progress toward the equality of opportunities and status for men and women). Blau, Brinton, and Grusky (2006) identified four overlapping narratives for social change in gender equality: economic, organizational, political, and cultural. Although each of these narratives plays a key role in a society's trajectory toward gender equality, our focus here is on the cultural narrative, that is, what people believe.

There are two reigning theoretical perspectives concerning historical changes in cultural beliefs about gender. Inglehart and Norris (in political science) and Lesthaeghe (in demography) have investigated different, yet interrelated, social phenomena - progress toward gender equality in the case of Inglehart and Norris and changes in family formation, fertility, and family dissolution in the case of Lesthaeghe. Both theoretical perspectives set out to explain processes of social change, but they differ in the key forces they identify as responsible for producing change. Inglehart and colleagues' work (see, e.g., Inglehart, Norris, & Welzel, 2002; Inglehart & Baker, 2000) predicted that as the economic development that accompanies modernization progresses and a stable democracy is established, beliefs about gender will become more egalitarian. …

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