Japan: The Childless Society?

By Bell, David C. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Japan: The Childless Society?


Bell, David C., Journal of Marriage and Family


Japan: The Childless Society? Muriel Jolivet. New York: Routledge. 1997. (Originally published as Un pays en mal d'enfants in 1993. AnneMarie Glasheen, Trans.). 244 pp. ISBN 0-41514647-X. $65.00 cloth, $18.95 paper. In this study, Muriel Jolivet, professor of French and sociology at Sophia University in Tokyo, attempts to explain Japan's declining birthrate, down to 1.46 children per woman in 1993. Relying on media sources, autobiographies, self-help books, recorded phone calls to a "baby help line," and surveys by government and other organizations, Jolivet delivers a passionate account of the pressures on women that make childbearing and childrearing unattractive. She looks at how women have responded to these pressures and how men are accommodating the changes in women.

Jolivet presents a fascinating, if unintentional, case for the ineffectiveness of social norms. She describes the apparently unanimous efforts of government and private experts to decry women's "selfishness" in resisting full-time mothering. It is clear that many women have successfully resisted these normative social pressures. They have resisted marriage to "absentee" husbands and fathers and also have resisted motherhood or have limited motherhood to one or two children. Of women aged 40-49, over 70% report having had abortions (p. 127). Spiritual practices for dealing with grief and guilt are common and lucrative for some temples in Japan. With the increasing independence of women has come an increase in the importation of brides from foreign countries like the Philippines and China and the advent of instruction for men on how to relate to women. …

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