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The governance of fertility through gender equality in the EU and Japan

Abstract

It is generally accepted amongst demographers that a declining fertility rate has negative economic consequences, namely in the guise of a slowdown in economic growth. Declining fertility has, therefore, been seen as a major problem in Japan and the EU for the last 20 years. Over the past two decades, demographers and social scientists have discussed intensely the causal connection between gender equality and female fertility, to the extent that during the past 10 years, gender equality has become the cornerstone of the EU and, to a degree, Japanese public policy aiming to re-optimise fertility rates. This article scrutinises the different ways in which gender equality is erected by demographic and social scientists in Japan and the EU as a technology of governance with the aim of re-exerting control over sexual reproduction. I argue that in the EU, scientists engage directly and endeavour to develop demographic theory based on European case studies, whereas Japanese gender equality policy is developed mainly by measuring the successes of European gender equality policy and considering the results it might yield in Japan. In both cases, however, gender equality is taken up as a tool for the governance of fertility.

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Notes

  1. In 2005, the Commission established its own research unit, the European Observatory on Social Situation and Demography (EOSSD), consisting of four multidisciplinary networks of independent experts based in the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. In its website, it defines its objective as the production of an ‘overview of the social and demographic situation as well as research notes and shorter policy briefs on specific issues of high policy relevance’. The EOSSD also produces research papers in the same way as Japan's NIPSSR (explained below), but it does not release such an abundant and consistent amount of research. For the purposes of this study, I have decided to set aside its documents in favour of the Commission's reports which rely on research done by the EOSSD.

  2. The NIPSSR was formed in 1996 by fusing together the Institute of Population Problems and the Social Development Research Institute as the institution for policy studies under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW).

  3. The fertility rate in Japan had been falling since the 1960s and fell below the replacement level in the 1970s as it did in many industrialised Western countries. It did not become the highly politicised issue that it is currently until 1989, when the fertility rate fell to 1.57 children to each woman in her lifetime. That this realisation is still known as the “1.57 shock” exemplifies the dramatic entrance it made into Japanese politics, making demography an explicitly politicised articulation thereafter. The situation has even been given its own name, shōshika, meaning the decrease in the number of children, reflecting fears of a childless society.

  4. This might be explained by the accession of Eastern European countries into the EU in 2004, relatively late in respect to the time frame set in this study. Eastern European states were either still outside the EU or recently acceded members, with little or no EU research material available on them when these articles were written.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the SYLFF Association of the Tokyo Foundation.

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Correspondence to Jemima Repo.

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Repo, J. The governance of fertility through gender equality in the EU and Japan. Asia Eur J 10, 199–214 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10308-012-0322-6

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Keywords

  • Member State
  • Gender Equality
  • Parental Leave
  • Fertility Decline
  • Female Labour Force Participation