The Japanese family system: continuity and change in the twentieth century

Akihiko Kato, Meiji University

The number of nuclear family households increased remarkably during the period of rapid economic growth, due to the marriage boom among cohorts who were born and had many siblings (an average of 5 to 6) under the demographic condition of high fertility and low mortality. Based on the typical traditional Japanese stem family system, the first born son lives together with their parents at marriage and inherits his father's house and land sooner or later. But the other sons must leave parental home and achieve economic independence to get married and make a new home on their own. Therefore the numerical predominance of nuclear family households in the cross-sectional census data does not necessarily mean the system change of family formation. This paper investigates continuity and change in the Japanese family system using data from National Family Research of Japan (implemented in 2002) and event-history techniques. The main findings are as follows. Firstly, the proportions of couples living with the husband’s parent(s) at the time of marriage decrease from 50% for those born in the 1920s to 20% for those born in the 1960s. But the younger cohorts start living with parent(s) soon after marriage. Then, the rate for the 1960s cohort surpassed 30% about ten years after marriage, the same levels for the 1930s, 1940s, and the 1950s cohort. Secondly, inheritance of the house and land has a strong and enduring positive effect on the coresidence after marriage, although conjugal family ideology has a strong negative effect on the coresidence at the time of marriage. These results suggest that the intrinsic forces of the stem family principle are still prominently at play in the fundamental levels of Japanese family, even in the beginning of twenty-first century.

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Presented in Poster Session 2

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