Parental Well-being: Japan and Germany in Comparison

In August 2013, the news media reported that a survey from June 2013, conducted by Japan’s Cabinet Office, revealed that 71 percent of the respondents (6,075 people age 20 and up) were “satisfied” or “reasonably satisfied” with their lives (Cabinet Office 2014a). Yet, in international comparison, Japan’s level of life satisfaction is low. According to the OECD Better Life Index, Japan ranks 27th out of 36 countries, a ranking that has declined steadily over the years (OECD 2013). Furthermore, people who have children may be less satisfied than those who do not. A 2012 Cabinet Office survey on well-being of young parents in their twenties and thirties found that female respondents who are mothers are less satisfied with life than those who are not mothers. Interestingly, no such difference could be seen between male respondents who are fathers and those who are not. The difference between mothers and fathers, however, is striking – with mothers having lower life satisfaction than fathers (Ueda and Kawahara 2013). So why does the life satisfaction of Japanese parents – particularly mothers – seem low compared to those who are not parents?

In Japan, like in other post-industrialized societies, expectations for “successful” parenting are much higher today than they were three or four decades ago (for the case of Germany, see Bertram and Spiess 2011). Additionally, raising a child has become more costly in terms of both time and money. These elevated costs, together with the rising opportunity costs for women opting for motherhood, are strongly correlated with the fertility rate in Japan (Ogawa et al. 2009). As the country’s low fertility rate is considered a major demographic problem by policy makers, it is imperative that they better understand parents, particularly those with young children who require a high degree of care.

Our study examines parental well-being in depth by asking (1) what influences the levels of happiness and life satisfaction of mothers and fathers in contemporary Japanese society, (2) what elements of parents’ lives – such as health and stress, personality, employment situation, material standing, education level, partnership and/or social networks – influence their wellbeing, and (3) how Japanese family policies fare in this relationship.

Within the existing research on happiness and well-being in Japan, we have identified four main gaps:

  • Few surveys have a particular focus on the well-being of parents
  • No study includes an all-encompassing analysis of all the different dimensions of well-being
  • Fathers are under-represented in most surveys and analyses, as most surveys focus on married women (e. g., Lee 2008; Suemori 1999; Matsunobu 2011)
  • Few Japanese surveys on well-being have been conducted in order to be compared with other countries

Parental well-being is a key concept in our study, which develops a model of parental well-being based on the assumption that the interplay of various aspects of subjective well-being in conjunction with objective life circumstances affects the well-being of parent(s) – and in due course the development of their children as well.

For this study, we conceptualize parental well-being as constituting the following seven dimensions see figure below: (1) material well-being, (2) parents’ education and educational aspirations for their children, (3) employment satisfaction, (4) health and personality, (5) social networks, (6) sense of support provided by family policies, and (7) relationship satisfaction. Our study compares fathers and mothers, focusing on the following aspects:

  • Levels of satisfaction with their lives as parents
  • Values regarding parenting, social relationships, and life in general
  • Differing life circumstances, such as employment, education, etc.

In 2009, the Ravensburger Stiftung, a foundation established by the German game company Ravensburger, sponsored a nationwide, representative survey on parental well-being in Germany. TNS Infratest Sozialforschung conducted the survey in face-to-face interviews in April and May 2009 under the auspices of Hans Bertram (Humboldt University of Berlin) and Katharina Spiess (DIW German Institute for Economic Research). In Japan, the German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo (DIJ) and a team (at the time represented by Noriko Goto, Junko Takaoka, and Satoko Tamura) from the Benesse Educational Research & Development Institute (BERD), the research institute of Benesse Corporation, a leading provider of educational services for children and youth, joined forces in order to mirror this German survey in Japan. Shin Joho Center, Inc. conducted the survey as a postal survey in January and February 2012, after a significant delay due to the triple disaster of March 2011.


Project Lead



Cooperating Partners

Emerit. Prof. Dr. Hans Bertram, Humboldt Universität, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Marina Hennig, Universität Mainz, Mainz

Professor Nobuko Nagase, Ochanomizu University

Professor Masumi Sugawara, Ochanomizu University

Professor Hiromi Tanaka, Meiji University

Junko Takaoka, Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD)

Publications

2015

Holthus, Barbara, Matthias Huber, Hiromi Tanaka. Parental Well-being in Japan. München: Iudicium (Miscellanea Nr. 19).
typo3.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/p_japanologie/Projects/
__DIJ_Miscelle_19_Holthus_mit_Logo_blau.pdf

2015

“Eltern als Empfänger familienpolitischer Maßnahmen“, Online Publication and Video. mediathek.hhu.de/watch/78805a0c-d9e1-40ea-9e98-1457abb557d8

2014

Holthus, Barbara. „Eltern und Kinder in der japanischen Gesellschaft“. Länderbericht Japan. Bundesanstalt für politische Bildung.

2013

Kindliches Wohlbefinden in Japan. Elterliche Sorgen und Ängste seit der Dreifachkatastrophe vom 11. März 2011“. [Child well-being in Japan. Parental worries and fears since the March 11, 2011 triple disaster]. In: Bertram, Hans (eds). Reiche, kluge, glückliche Kinder? Der UNICEF-Bericht zur Lage der Kinder in Deutschland. Weinheim: Beltz Juventa Verlag.

2013

Holthus, Barbara, Hiromi Tanaka. “Parental well-being and the sexual division of household labour: A new look at gendered families in Japan”. Asiatische Studien, AS/EA LXVII/2:401-428. www.zora.uzh.ch/84990/1/03_Holthus_Tanaka_Z.pdf

2013

Parental fears and concerns post 3/11, DIJ Newsletter, No. 48,October.

2013

Expert Talk, DIJ Newsletter, No. 47, April.

Presentations (Barbara Holthus)

2015/Jan

“Eltern als Empfänger familienpolitischer Maßnahmen in Japan”. Symposium Familienpolitik Japan und Deutschland im Vergleich, Düsseldorf. mediathek.hhu.de/watch/78805a0c-d9e1-40ea-9e98-1457abb557d8,

2014/July

“Time, Money, Infrastructure: You parents’ needs and (dis)satisfaction with family policies in Japan”. ISA World congress of sociology, Yokohama, Japan

2014/May

„Elterliches Wohlbefinden in Japan: Ein deutsch-japanischer Vergleich“, in Ostasienforum, University of Vienna.

2013/Nov

“Time, Money, and Infrastructure: Parents’ responses to family policies in Japan”. VSJF, Berlin.

2013/June

Invited presentation, “Childcare, Work Life Balance and Parental Well-being in Japan”, Tokyo: Maison Franco-Japonaise.

2013/May

“Time, Money, Infrastructure: Young parents’ needs and (dis)satisfaction with family policies in Japan”. GJSS workshop on wellbeing and happiness in Japan. Bad Homburg: Reimers Stiftung.

2013/March

with Hiromi Tanaka: Time, Money, Infrastructure: Young parents’ needs and (dis)satisfaction with family policies in Japan; Panel: Work-life policies, AAS, San Diego.

2012/Nov

„Elterliches Wohlbefinden: Eine neue Sicht auf die Herstellung von Geschlecht in japanischen Familien“ [Parental well-being: A new look at the construction of gender in Japanese families]. Geschlechterworkshop, VSJF conference.

2012/Oct

“Parental Well-being in Japan: A new look at gendered families”, Center for Japanese Studies Seminar Series, Center for Japanese Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

2012/Aug

“Elterliches Wohlbefinden in Japan” [parental well-being in Japan], zusammen mit Hiromi Tanaka, 15. Deutschsprachiger Japanologentag, Zürich.

2012/May

“Fathers and Well-being: Comparing Germany and Japan” poster presentation, National Center for Family & Marriage Research Conference: Fathers & Fathering in Contemporary Contexts, NIH, Bethesda, MD.
ncfmr.bgsu.edu/pdf/fathersfathering/Posters/file112428.pdf

2012/March

“Contested Ground: Parental (Dis)satisfaction with Japanese Triangular Family Policies”, Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Toronto.

2010/Nov

“Elterliches Wohlbefinden: Japan und Deutschland im Vergleich“ [Parental well being: Japan and Germany in comparison], together with Hiromi Tanaka-Naji (DIJ Tokyo), VSJF Annual meeting, Frankfurt.

Presentations (Marina Hennig)

2016

"Social resources and parental well-being. A comparison of Japanese and German parental ego-centric networks", European Population Conference. Demographic Change and Policy Implications, Mainz, Germany, 31.08.-30.09.2016.

2015

"Gleich und doch anders? Zum Einfluss sozialer Beziehungen auf das subjektive Wohlbefinden im Kulturvergleich", Vortrag an der Fakultät Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften der Universität Hamburg, 09.09.2015.

2014

"The influence of social relations on parental, subjective well-being. A comparison of Japanese and German ego-centric networks", 1st European Conference on Social Networks, Barcelona (UAB), Spain, 01.- 04.07.2014.

2014

"Social resources and parental wellbeing. Comparison of Japanese and Germans' parental ego-centric networks", XXXIV International Sunbelt Social Network Conference, Tampa, USA, 18.-23.02.2014.