Gender dimensions in family life : a comparative study of structural constraints and power in Sweden and Japan

University dissertation from Stockholm : Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis

Abstract: The main aim of this thesis is to analyze and compare women’s experiences, choices and practices in family life relative to men’s. The central questions addressed are: How does the gender structure in societies alter the gendered distribution of resources in society and the division of paid and unpaid work in families? What types of gender structures in societies allow women to exercise power in the family? Sweden and Japan are chosen as comparative cases since these two societies represent opposite ends of the spectrum of welfare regime typologies in terms of gender logics; one is based on equality and institutional individualization (Sweden), while the other is structured around gender difference, male breadwinner norms and policies to support them (Japan).The key concepts in the dissertation are “power” and “structural constraint”, which form the basis of the framework for analyzing gender and power from a comparative perspective. Building upon Paula England’s theorizing on the relationship between gender structures and subjective states, the thesis develops a framework that links micro- and macro-processes. The model I suggest allows for a comparative analysis of gendered processes and empowerment, incorporating the dimensions of the state, market and family relations. I assume that gender logics in a social-political system affect norms and shape individuals’ subjective states. The relationship between male breadwinner policy logics and egalitarian ideologies and norms for family life are reflected not only individual attitudes, but also in their sense of entitlement to make claims.The empirical analyses, based upon highly comparable data, suggest that differences in the gender structures of the countries are reflected in the variations in the organization of family life and negotiations around them. In Swedish families, resources such as time and money are more equally allocated between wives and husbands compared to Japanese families. Moreover, the egalitarian gender ideology does generate egalitarian gender attitudes, which appear to be crucial factors for women’s sources of empowerment. The Swedish women and men in this study express more support for gender equality in family and society compared to their Japanese counterparts.A central argument in the thesis is that the exercise of power in the family is linked to the power resources of women – encompassing both societal and individual resources – to make claims upon their husbands or partners. My findings suggest that women’s decision making power in the family increases as they accumulate more resources, and that increased decision making power leads to a more equal allocation of time, money and the division of paid work both in Sweden and Japan. The results also show that individual resources (wife’s income relative to husband’s) matter more for Japanese women’s ability to make claims upon husbands to alter the organization of paid and unpaid work than for Swedish women.The thesis treats processes and outcomes of power as analytically distinct. I employ two mechanisms of power (manifest and latent power), derived from Aafke Komter’s theorizing on power dimensions. The empirical analysis of negotiations among dual earner couples over the division of unpaid work suggests that Swedish women can exercise greater manifest power in the family compared to the Japanese women. However, there are similarities between the two countries in terms of latent power processes (conflict avoidance). As is true for their Japanese counterparts, a significant proportion of full-time working wives in Sweden are constrained from making claims in the family by the legitimated traditional norm to be the main caregivers.Comparing the two societies, I find that overall, Japanese women express greater constraints and feel less empowered to make claims upon their husbands in marriage and after divorce. Japanese lone mothers appeared to be the least empowered of the groups in the analysis. Based upon qualitative interviews, with a comparative interview instrument, the data show that Japanese lone mothers face poverty and discrimination on the job market and have difficulty finding housing. Because of laws, policies and practices they are unable to make claims upon their husbands for child support or equitable division of property. They also lack the state benefits and support that Swedish lone mothers enjoy.

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