Old Challenges, New Strategies: Women, Work, and Family in Contemporary Asia

By Leng Leng Thang; Wei-Hsin Yu | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
CHALLENGING THE LIFE COURSE: JAPANESE SINGLE
WORKING WOMEN IN SINGAPORE
Leng Leng Thang, Miho Goda and Elizabeth MacLachlan

Many studies have noted the highly predictable and structured life course of Japanese women (and men). In a comparison of life course transitions between Japanese and American women, Brinton (1992) concludes that the “Japanese women's life course transitions are characterized by irreversibility, age-incongruity, and low variance in timing across individuals” (1992:100). Japanese women are seen to adhere largely to the life course embraced by social norms and promoted through government policies, and usually expect the following.

After graduation from high school, junior college, or university, women should work full-time and enjoy leisure on the side, preparing to settle down later. They should marry and have children in their mid to late 20s, and, although they might continue to work, as mothers they must show significant support in their children's education and preschool years. This support is deemed to be best given if women become housewives and are economically dependent on their husbands. After children are in school, preferably junior high, women should return to work with fewer responsibilities that will allow them flexibility in fulfilling household functions, so parttime work and hobbies appear to fit well. Yet, women should also be ready to care for the elderly in her family and for her husband when he retires (Rosenberger 1996:14).

Despite the apparent rigidity of this life course, Brinton notes that Japanese women's lives are not static and unchanging. She gives the examples of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (1986), and the proliferation of adult education opportunities for women in their 30s and 40s as developments that open up new alternatives to the largely standardized set of expectations of how women should structure their lives (Brinton 1992:102). Rosenberger (1996) finds similar evidence that the consensus on the nature of women's life schedules may be changing. In an analysis of content in women's magazines,

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