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“Diverging Destinies”: A Review of the Research


“Diverging destinies” is a term used by Sara McLanahan in her 2004 presidential address to the Population Association of America to describe growing socioeconomic differentials in family behaviors associated with the second demographic transition. Drawing primarily on evidence from the U.S., McLanahan (2004) demonstrated that women at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum are increasingly engaging in family behaviors that are associated with reduction in the resources available to their children (e.g., nonmarital childbearing) while those at the upper end of the spectrum are engaging in family behaviors associated with increased resources (e.g., stable marriage). The core of her argument is that this pattern of family bifurcation has important implications for inequality in opportunities for success across generations. Because McLanahan explicitly linked this pattern of diverging destinies to the broader constellation of family changes associated second demographic transition, it is useful to begin with a brief overview of research on those changes.1

The “second demographic transition” is a framework for understanding the emergence of below-replacement fertility in industrialized countries and the accompanying changes in family behavior and related attitudes (Lesthaeghe 2010; van de Kaa 1987). Family changes associated with the second demographic transition include delayed marriage, delayed childbearing, increases in the proportion who never marry and remain childless, and substantial increases in nonmarital cohabitation, nonmarital fertility (including fertility within cohabiting unions), 1It is important to note that there is disagreement about not only the concept of a second demographic transition, but also about the idea of diverging destinies being part of the second demographic transition. Noting the role played by highly educated innovators in conventional depictions of family change associated with the second demographic transition, growing socioeconomic differences in family behavior have also been referred to as a “pattern of disadvantage” (e.g., Perelli-Harris et al. 2010; Perelli-Harris and Gerber 2011).

© The Author(s) 2017

J.M. Raymo and M. Iwasawa, Diverging Destinies,

Population Studies of Japan, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-0185-7_1

maternal employment, and divorce (Lesthaeghe 1995; Lesthaeghe and Moors 2000; van de Kaa 1987). This “package” of new family behaviors has emerged, with variations in both the timing and the magnitude of change, across nearly all low-fertility countries (Lesthaeghe and Moors 2000; Sobotka 2008). Explanations for family changes associated with the second demographic transition include shifting attitudes and values, convergence in men’s and women’s roles in society and within families, and improvements in contraceptive technology. Interested readers can consult several broad overviews of the second demographic transition (Lesthaeghe 1995, 2010; Raymo 2015a; Sobotka 2008; van de Kaa 1987, 2001).

Like research on the second demographic transition, the growing body of work on diverging destinies seeks to evaluate the generality of socioeconomic bifurcation in family behavior and to understand the ways in which the pace and nature of these changes are shaped by the social, economic, and political context in which they are observed (e.g., Perelli-Harris et al. 2010; McLanahan and Jacobsen 2015; Raymo et al. 2015). Our goal in this study is to extend this research by focusing on Japan— a relatively understudied country in which educational differences in family behavior appear to be growing despite many reasons to believe that a pattern of diverging destinies is unlikely to emerge. We accomplish this goal in three steps. In this first chapter, we set the stage by describing the pattern of diverging destinies in greater detail, summarizing its posited causes and consequences, and evaluating related empirical evidence from the U.S. and other low-fertility countries. In the second chapter, we turn our attention to Japan—discussing the theoretical value of extending research on diverging destinies to the Japanese context and providing an overview of the relatively small body of research on trends in educational differences in family outcomes based on Japanese data. In Chaps. 3 and 4, we use data from multiple rounds of the Japanese National Fertility Survey to describe trends over time in educational differences in a wide range of family outcomes. The goal of these analyses is to provide a comprehensive and systematic summary of empirical evidence that can provide a basis for evaluating the extent to which patterns of family change in Japan are consistent those emphasized in discussions of diverging destinies.

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