The M-Shaped Dilemma: Life Strategies and Fertility Trends among Working Women in Contemporary Japan

Akiko Nosaka


This study examines women’s fertility and life strategies in relation to older family members in contemporary Japan, a country with extremely low fertility. It focuses on suburban working women of reproductive age who already have at least one child. This study uses data collected in 2007 to investigate how the fertility of these women may be influenced by their mothers and/or mothers-in-law and how they obtain assistance from them. Questionnaire responses from 196 individuals provided quantitative results, which were interpreted with reference to qualitative data from interviews with 56 of these individuals. The quantitative data indicate that the working women’s fertility is significantly associated with assistance from their natal mothers, but not their mothers-in-law. Qualitative analyses indicate that assistance from mothers-in-law is also valuable, but may be contingent on how much assistance they get from their natal mothers. These findings provide a new perspective on Japanese fertility and on possible future trends.


Japan; women; fertility; work; intergenerational kin assistance

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