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Synthesis of Existing Research

What does the existing evidence summarized above tell us about how Japan is similar and different to the U.S. and other Western societies? Is it consistent with the emergence of a pattern of diverging destinies in Japan? Our assessment is that the evidence is mixed and that the answers to these questions depend on the aspect of family change considered. Several of the family outcomes emphasized by McLanahan (2004) are indeed strongly differentiated by education in Japan. In particular, divorce, single parenthood, and a range of outcomes associated with early family formation are concentrated among women with lower levels of education. These include early childbearing, unintended fertility, bridal pregnancy, and nonmarital childbearing (albeit at very low levels). Evidence of an increase over time in these educational gradients is less convincing, however. In the following chapters, we therefore devote particular attention to describing trends in these educational gradients.

Educational differences in other family outcomes are less consistent with a pattern of diverging destinies. For example, there is little evidence that cohabitation is replacing marriage for less-educated women and no indication that cohabitation has emerged as a setting for childbearing for any educational group. Similarly, the continued high prevalence of labor force exit at childbirth across educational categories is not consistent with a scenario in which diverging employment trajectories for mothers is contributing to bifurcation in children’s resources. In fact, evidence that the most highly educated women remain the most likely to permanently exit the labor force (Raymo and Lim 2011) is consistent with a more traditional view of the family in which women with the resources to do so choose to focus on domestic production.

After systematic empirical examination of the wide range of family behaviors discussed above, we will return to this question of the extent to which the diverging destinies framework is applicable to Japan. We will also consider possible explanations for observed similarities and differences between Japan and the more widely studied western countries. Our analyses will be primarily descriptive in nature and we are thus not able to directly evaluate the relevance of underlying mechanisms. Nevertheless, we can offer speculative interpretations that may provide a useful basis for subsequent research. Finally, we will evaluate what we have learned from our analyses (and the previous work summarized above) and consider the potential implications for stratification and intergenerational transmission of dis/advantage in the Japanese context.

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