Parental well-being in the rural periphery of Germany and Japan: Choices, challenges, and considerations
May 2012 - ongoing
With the overall objective of improving our understanding of what constitutes the well-being of parents in the rural periphery, this research project is a unique contribution to the academic debate on well-being that has been gaining momentum over the recent decade. I add to the discourse by using a sociological perspective, an underrepresented discipline in the study on well-being, and by focusing on a very specific social group, namely parents with young children living in areas most highly affected by demographic change, namely rural, peripheral communities. This project ties in to the DIJ's research focus on regional diversity of Japan. A sociological lense onto happiness helps in focusing on the individual as well as his or her embeddedness in a broader social context. Both elements have to be considered, just as I have pointed to the mutual importance of “structure and agency” in the analysis of happiness and well-being in Japan in previous publications.
Through my previous research on parental well-being I determined the significant role parents of young children have when it comes to solving problems of ageing and low fertility and the multitude of factors influencing parental well-being. This project aims to link three discourses, on well-being, on demographic change, and on the numerous problems of rural, peripheral communities, of which out-migration is just one of many. This project is meant to improve scientific understanding of parents’ lived reality and overall well-being of those in rural, peripheral areas by following a region- and culture-sensitive, qualitative research paradigm.
The research areas in Japan chosen for this project fall under the category of "rural periphery". Rural peripheries are hard-to-reach areas increasingly disconnected from national and global development, which show declining economic conditions while being faced with population decline through low birth rates and high out-migration. In Japan, mountainous and farming regions all over the country fit the description. Structural deficiencies in addition to challenges particular to families come into play as push factors when it comes to the decision for families about where to raise their children. At the same time, there are also incentives for raising children in the countryside, like the quietness, the lack of traffic congestions, clean air, and the relatively inexpensive housing costs in rural areas.
Despite the urgency of the matter and the importance of understanding regional disparities in parents’ well-being, studies are rare. I plan to conduct qualitative, sociological research through a multi-method approach: semi-structured interviews with parents of young children as well as several periods of ethnographic fieldwork in southern Japan.