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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Life Course Changes in Contemporary Japanese Society: A Study of Single Working Women in Tokyo

 January 2009 - January 2015

During the postwar years of reconstruction and high economic growth, male and female life courses were more or less "standardized" in Japan. These modern life courses reflected an idealized image of family and working lives in Japanese society and a notion of a “happy life” – a life for men working in the life-long employment system and earning money for his wife and children and for women being responsible for domestic work as a wife and a mother of two to three children. This kind of image and notion was socially constructed and widely accepted in the Japanese “middle-class” society. The past decades, however, witnessed changes, which make us wonder, in which direction the society is moving.

By taking a life course and biographical approach, this research project examines changes of and deviations from the standardized life courses and ideals of the postwar period. The project focuses on single working women in their 30’s and 40’s, a group of women whose life courses clearly show a different pattern of that of women of older generations in terms of marriage (later and less marriage), parenthood (low fertility), and work (increased labor force participation among younger generations of women). This project shall carry out an empirical research on single working women in Tokyo to investigate (1) what macro factors affect and contribute to the increasing non-marriage rate among working women in Japan, particularly in Tokyo, (2) how these women perceive their singlehood and (3) how they make decisions about marriage, parenthood and work. To answer these questions, this project shall conduct, apart from analyses of available statistical data, qualitative interviews with unmarried women working in Tokyo and analyze interview data to answer these questions.

This project is a part of an international comparative study on single working women in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul, three economically developed territories in East Asia, characterized by the tendencies of less marriage and low fertility.


October 22 - October 23, 2010
Symposia and Conferences
Life Courses in Flux


Hiromi Tanaka (until March 2011)