Accepted Paper:

Becoming a mother in northern Japan: social capital and network negotiations and the impact on fertility  


Michaela Kelly (University of Tokyo)

Paper short abstract:

By tracing social network changes occurring as women enter motherhood, the conditions of social capital afforded women with and without children are examined. A woman’s social networks provide her with those resources that are renegotiated and those maintained as she gives birth to her first child.

Paper long abstract:

An examination of government and scholarly explanations for the low birthrate in contemporary Japan suggests that Japanese society has and is undergoing major shifts in economic and social practice. Attendant to these changes have been different life course opportunities for people of all genders, and changes to the life course for many women have been highlighted in the Japanese public policy measures offered specifically to mothers. However, despite nearly 15 years of targeted financial, attitudinal and temporal support for women with children, the hoped for increase in birthrate has not been realized. The choice to become a mother seems little affected by public policy or government rhetoric, instead, women make choices about motherhood using complex personal rubrics. This paper traces one aspect of a woman's first choice to have children, the changes she experiences in her social (family, friend, neighborhood, colleague) networks whentransitioning to motherhood.

Ethnographic interviews and network data collection carried out with mothers in Northern Japan has yielded specific patterns of social network change at the time of pregnancy and childbirth. These changes impact a woman's choice to carry a pregnancy to term, and her decision to have second and subsequent children. Using network size and its related resources as a measure of social capital accessible to an individual, this paper follows changes to a woman's network, resources available as she moves from woman, pregnant woman and mother and will suggest fluctuations in social capital play a role in decisions about pregnancy and childbirth.

Panel P080
Cross-cultural perspectives on pregnancy and childbirth: encounters with unknowns at the natal/postnatal juncture