Family laws and familial ideologies are crucial factors for gender equality that are often overlooked in gender-equality discourses. This lecture explores how marriage and childbirth are disadvantageous for women in Japan, and the institutionalization of this disadvantage in family laws and in hegemonic family ideology. The focus is on the adverse economic consequences that women experience for career interruptions and child rearing responsibilities, which become more visible after divorce. Results from the National Family Research of Japan (NFRJ) surveys from 1999 to 2009 highlight a great gender gap in post-divorce economic living standards. This is attributable to women’s interrupted careers and their responsibility to take care of children. Analyses of public discourses reveal that the disadvantages encountered by wives and mothers are deeply rooted in the history of law. The disadvantages have also been justified in ideological debates on social problems regarding family, work, welfare, and population issues. Although laws and policies have made some progress in reducing risks, the advancement has been so slow and limited that the underlying mechanism of gender inequality remains untouched.
Tanaka Sigeto is an Associate Professor at the Department of Applied Japanese Linguistics, Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University. He specializes in the sociological study of gender and family issues, in particular, the sexual division of labor and economic outcomes of divorce in Japan. Most recently, his research interests have included population policy and political discourses on medicine, biology, and demographic determinants of declining fertility. He is the editor of a book, A Quantitative Picture of Contemporary Japanese Families: Tradition and Modernity in the 21st Century (Tohoku University Press, 2013).