Current Institutional Affiliation
Energy Policy Lead, APAC/Research Associate, Hokkaido University

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Professor, Political Studies, Bard College
Family, State, and Society: Japanese and Korean Family Welfare Policies in Comparative Perspective

With the world's most rapidly aging societies and lowest fertility, East Asia's wealthiest democracies face many policy challenges. One underappreciated and politically difficult problem for the region is the question of who will care for children and the elderly as dual income families become the norm. For much of their post-World War II development, East Asia's leading industrialized democracies kept social spending low by relying on women as family caregivers. The key to integrating women more fully into the workforce—increasingly a necessity due to labor needs, not just a matter of equality—is moving away from this traditional system. However, this involves not only changing long-standing social practices and workplace cultures concerning gender roles, but the creation of family welfare policies (policies intended to ease the burden of caregiving and reduce the opportunity costs associated with childrearing via subsidies, services, and regulations) where few existed before. I focus on the varied experiences of Japan and South Korea in particular, for the puzzles they present and the policy lessons that they offer for other industrialized societies in East Asia and around the world. Japan was the first country in East Asia to create family welfare policies. In fact, Japan has grown to spend more on caregiving than most of the developed world just within the last two decades. Nonetheless, Japanese women continue to face substantial pressure to quit work after marriage and children, leaving them with very different career opportunities than their male counterparts. Why have significant increases in family welfare spending apparently done little to change Japanese women's employment patterns? By contrast, whereas Japan outspends South Korea on childcare and eldercare today, Korea has been more aggressive in ensuring that women do not face workplace discrimination over their caregiving responsibilities. Why have Japan and Korea begun to diverge in their policy approaches to family welfare, despite similarly minimal post-war welfare state origins? My proposed project uses multiple levels of comparative analysis to answer these questions. I first examine the historical progression of post-war Japanese family policies to see what kinds of actors and institutions have shaped these policies in the past, and how this has impacted recent moves away from the traditional emphasis on caregiving as a family, not state responsibility. I then compare sub-nationally within Japan, to see how and why central and local governments responses to the same demographic dilemmas have developed differently. Last but not least, I compare cross-nationally, making implicit comparisons with policy developments in Western Europe and North America, and explicit comparisons with contemporary approaches in Korea. My ultimate aim is to produce a more theoretically grounded and analytically informed understanding of the politics of family welfare in Japan versus South Korea, as well as a detailed analysis of their existing policies and future directions for policies concerning the role of women and families, given that they serve as models for the rest of industrialized East Asia.