Work and Lifecourse in Japan

By Samuel Coleman; Theodore F. Cook Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Tempo of Family Formation

SAMUEL COLEMAN

One theme in this volume is the fit between public careers and private lives in present-day Japan. This chapter examines some of the events that constitute critical points in private life: marriage and the creation of a new family. Demographic statistics indicate the proportion of Japan's adult population that is likely to marry and when, as well as when and how many children will result. The figures contrast with those of other industrialized cultures in a number of respects: marriage occurs at a relatively late age in Japan, but only a small proportion of the population remains unmarried; the country's fertility rate is quite low, but so also is the proportion of couples who remain childless; only a minute percentage of all births take place outside of marriage, and childbearing is concentrated in a narrow age range among Japanese women.

Such features of marriage and fertility are typically analyzed in terms of economic variables, historical trends, or social factors such as education. There is, however, yet another dimension that may be of value in understanding the extent and tempo of nuptiality and natality, namely the culture of marriage. This may be defined as the functions and meaning of family life for husbands and wives. Unlike many of the economic and social variables that have been applied to the study of marriage and fertility patterns, the factors that emerge when conjugal life becomes the object of analysis are difficult to measure, particularly as one moves toward the more psychological functions of marriage such as companionship and sexuality. The application of these considerations to such hard classes of data as age at marriage is still a tentative exercise. Their refinement could prove

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