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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #51: August 4, 2003

Family Issues and Japanese Social Policy:
Part Three - U.S.-Japan Social Policy Comparisons

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.


Japanese social policy has never been static and is constantly evolving to meet shifting socio-economic circumstances. Of course, this is true in all industrially advanced countries and thus makes international comparisons between such states difficult as well as somewhat ephemeral.

For example, the U.S. and Japan have recently diverged in some fundamental areas of social policy, while are converging in others. New initiatives on sex and marriage illustrate these trends fairly well.

In the U.S. sexual abstinence has emerged as a key policy plank of President George W. Bush's reform of American welfare policy. In several policy speeches the President has extolled the virtues of abstinence as a good way of protecting young people from sexually transmitted disease and teenage pregnancy. He proposes allocating millions of dollars for promoting the 'no sex is safe sex' campaign. Contrastingly, Japan has been cautiously moving in the opposite direction and testing an approach that acknowledges teenage sexuality. In 2002, an affiliate of the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry published an illustration-packed pamphlet about sex for junior high school students. This was entitled "Love and Body Book for Adolescents." It was distributed to junior high schools until controversy over the booklet's graphic content and frank advice halted its circulation.

With regard to marital union, both countries seem highly keen to promote the institution. Take the U.S. welfare reauthorization bill that has recently passed through the House and now awaits action by the Senate. It contains several measures to encourage couples to tie the knot. There is a proposal to spend nearly two billion U.S. dollars over the next six years to promote marriage. States receiving their allocated share of these funds would be required to establish services that "encourage the formation and maintenance of healthy two-parent married families." Furthermore, single people on welfare who marry could be entitled to cash bonuses. The Japanese government has allocated over one trillion yen in the fiscal 2003 budget for measures to increase marriage rates and boost the birthrate. While national policymakers have not drafted any plans to give Japanese welfare recipients cash bonuses for walking up the aisle, some small towns do pay their citizens cash for marrying, regardless of employment status.

American and Japanese marriage initiatives also highlight a classic problem from which state social policy often suffers. Basically, people do not like the state dictating to them how they should manage their personal lives. Social behaviour frequently runs contrary to official social policy and eventually democratic states are forced to either recognizes this fact or introduce harsh penalties to modify behaviour. Within the space of just a few years social policy on key issues can radically alter, even if people's social behaviour does not. Government policy only really tells us what the state hopes people will do and it is usually more enlightening to investigate what they actually do.

Other Articles in Family Issues and Japanese Social Policy Series

Family Issues and Japanese Social Policy - Part One: Paternal Childcare Leave in Japan 2002
Social Trends: Series #5, GLOCOM Platform, 5 September 2002


Family Issues and Japanese Social Policy - Part Two: Japanese Tax and Pension Reform Proposals 2002: Abolition of the Spouse Special Tax Deduction
Social Trends: Series #7, GLOCOM Platform, 17 September 2002


Family Issues and Japanese Social Policy Part Three: U.S.-Japan Social Policy Comparisons
Social Trends: Series #51, GLOCOM Platform, 1 August 2003


Related Series

The Declining Birthrate in Japan


Family Trends 2003


International Marriages in Japan


Book Reference

Children of the Japanese State by Roger Goodman


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