The Political Economy of Japan's Low Fertility

By Frances McCall Rosenbluth | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Women's Economic Status and Fertility:
Japan in Cross-National Perspective

SAWAKO SHIRAHASE


Introduction

Drastic changes in Japan's demographic structure—that is, the decline in the fertility rate and the resulting growth in the aged population, and their possible consequences for Japan's fiscal health—have raised alarm in Japan's policy-making circles. The drop in the total fertility rate from 1.66 in 1988 to 1.57 in 1989 attracted public attention and became widely known as the “1.57 shock.” Nothing the government has done so far has resulted in higher fertility, and the numbers seem to be edging ever downward. However we feel about fertility itself, the public spotlight on the fertility issue gives us an unprecedented opportunity to examine how women's lot might be improved.

Japan has been characterized by the least favorable work setting for women, as exemplified by the discontinuous pattern of work among mothers, the large wage gap between men and women, and the very low proportion of women holding managerial positions. In this chapter, I will examine the downward trend in the fertility rate, and provide an overview of recent studies on married women's labor force participation. Second, I will examine mothers' working patterns, especially on the continuation of work before and after the first childbirth in Japan. Third, I will compare mothers' work in Japan with that in other industrial nations, focusing on the extent of their contribution to the household economy. I will show how the wife's income affects the number of children in Japan and elsewhere.

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