Reasons not to Expect a Pattern of Diverging Destinies in Japan

Homogenous Family Life Course

One compelling reason to expect limited socioeconomic divergence in family behavior is history. The family life course in Japan has long been distinguished by its homogeneity (Brinton 1992), with the timing and ordering of family transitions following a well-established script with relatively little variation. Earlier changes in the timing of marriage and childbearing and in the level offertility occurred similarly across the socioeconomic distribution (Hodge and Ogawa 1991; Raymo 2003), reflecting both structural forces and normative constraints on women’s opportunities outside of the family (Brinton 1992, 1993). Women’s own expectations about their work and family trajectories are also consistent with a socioeconomically homogenous life course (Raymo et al. 2015b). This lack of educational variation suggests that differentials in new family behaviors that do emerge in Japan may be less pronounced than in the U.S. and Europe. At the same time, evidence that being a full-time housewife is less of a “status symbol” than it was (Kohara 2007) and that there are large educational differences in women’s ideal work-family trajectory (Raymo et al. 2015b) suggest that the foundations of this family homogeneity may be shifting, at least with respect to mothers’ employment.

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