Impact of fathers’ support and activities on mothers’ marital satisfaction by income contribution during economic recession in Japan

Impact of fathers’ support and activities on mothers’ marital satisfaction by income contribution during economic recession in Japan

Reiko Yamato

Japanese society has faced a serious economic recession since the mid-1990s. Husbands continue to be the main breadwinners and rarely participate in housework, even though their wages have become less secure. Wives contribute to the household finances to various degrees, in addition to shouldering almost all of the housework and caring for the family at home. Analysis of data obtained from 659 married women with small children in 2004 by the National Family Research organization in Japan revealed that fathers’ emotional support increased the mothers’ marital satisfaction regardless of the wives’ income contribution. For wives with higher income contributions, marital satisfaction increased when their husbands performed day-to-day child care tasks. For wives with lower income contributions, marital satisfaction was increased more by their husbands playing with the children than by their sharing the child care tasks. The results have policy implications.

Keywords: father’s role, nurturer, playmate, breadwinner, wife’s marital satisfaction, financial contributions to the household

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Since the mid-1990s, Japanese society has faced an economic recession. The postwar consensus of long-term employment and family wages for men, which had underpinned the “husband-breadwinner, wife-homemaker” lifestyle, has been shaken (Cabinet Office, 2003). Married women’s participation in the labor market has increased to supplement household incomes (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2005). Their husbands, however, continue to be the main breadwinners because women’s employment is less secure than men’s (Kimoto, 2006) and most married women quit paid employment to raise their young children, reentering the labor market as lower-paid part-timers when the youngest child reaches about 10 years of age (OECD, 2003; Tanaka, 1996; Yamato, 2005). Most of the housework and child care continues to be done by wives regardless of the extent of their financial contributions (Statistics Bureau, 2001).

With such socioeconomic circumstances as a backdrop, the first question the present study seeks to answer is, within the Japanese family with small children, what kinds of household activities performed by fathers positively affect the marital satisfaction of mothers: More specifically, does the emotional support given by these husbands to their wives, their performing housework, engaging in day-to-day child care, or playing with the children increase their wives’ marital satisfaction? The second question is whether the effects of such activities on the mothers’ marital satisfaction differ between mothers with higher income contributions and those with lower income contributions. The present study aims to answer these questions by analyzing data obtained from a nationwide survey conducted in Japan in 2004.

The Changing Roles of Fathers in Japan

Mintz’s (1998) historical overview of men’s familial roles in the U.S. provided a framework for looking at changes in Japan. He identified three important points for research on this subject. First, men’s familial roles have changed over time and the changes have not been unilinear; therefore, the popular notion that men’s roles in U.S. families have shifted from patriarchal to egalitarian is inadequate to capture the complexity of transformations. Second, there have been considerable variations in men’s roles within given periods between and within classes, and also within ethnic groups and geographic locations. Third, the authority and respect that men receive inside the home have been inextricably connected to their authority and status outside the home. Relating to the third point, two historical developments have strongly shaped men’s familial roles in recent years. The first is a shift from the family wage to the individual wage and the second is the replacement of the symbolic significance attached to the father-son dyad by that attached to the mother-child dyad.

Mintz’s arguments can be applied to the historical developments of Japanese fathers’ transformation of roles. Japanese society has had a cultural tradition of a stem family system known as “ie.” le literally means “house” or “family” in Japanese, but it also means a stem family system that is supposed to continue across generations. In this family system, the ie successor, usually the eldest son, continues to live with his parents even after his marriage, until the parents die. Ie is also a property-owing corporate group in which the greatest emphasis is placed on maintaining the property over time. The ie successor inherits all the property, including the land, house, household goods, and/or family business. Managing the property well and preserving it to be passed on to the next generation is the most important responsibility of the ie successor (Elliott & Campbell, 1993; Koyano, 2003; Nakane, 1970). The ie family system developed among the armed samurai class, but it prevailed among common agrarian families in the Tokugawa period (from 1603 to 1868) (Oto, 1996). In the context of this stem family system in the Tokugawa period, it was, at least ideologically, the father’s responsibility to bring up, discipline, and educate his offspring to be a competent ie successor or suitable subordinate members of the ie (Ota, 1994). In contrast, mothers, particularly mothers of the ruling samurai class, were seen as unsuitable for disciplining and educating their offspring. Confucian thought, which was a dominant ideology of the samurai class, taught that women were morally and intellectually so inferior to men that they could not perform such important tasks for the family. Childrearing manuals in this period were addressed to fathers, not to mothers (Koyama, 1991). The many female family members and servants of affluent families performed the actual day-to-day child rearing under the supervision of the male head of the family. In less affluent families where such support was not fully available, fathers, even among the samurai class, were inevitably involved in day-to-day child care activities. High infant mortality in this period also promoted fathers’ direct involvement in child care in less affluent families (Ota, 1994).

The construction of a modern authoritarian state beginning during the Meiji restoration in 1867 and the subsequent industrialization transformed Japanese men’s familial roles in a somewhat contradictory manner. On the one hand, the modern Japanese civil code gave the male ie head formal legal rights to control other family members, such as the right to refuse a member’s marriage and the right to restrict a member’s geographical mobility. Once a woman married, her exercise of basic civil rights such as property rights and parental authority was restricted (Toshitani, 1987). On the other hand, industrialization promoted the physical separation of the home and the workplace in urban middle-class families, which strengthened the view that the home was the woman’s place (Muta, 1990). Leaders of the modern government, unlike their pre-modern Confucian counterparts, introduced the modern Western ideology of motherhood where women have a natural disposition suitable for taking care of and educating children. People came to view mothers as the most suitable nurturer and educator of children. In contrast, fathers were increasingly expected to act as the provider and decision maker of the family rather than as a direct educator of the children (Koyama, 1991).

After World War II, the civil code was amended and the rights of the ie head to control adult members were abolished. Married women gained basic civil rights (Toshitani, 1987). With the beginning of rapid economic growth in the late 1950s, the Japanese employment structure changed: Agricultural households and self-employed households decreased in number while employee households increased. As a result, a lifestyle embodying the separation of home and the workplace prevailed across social classes. Mothers were expected to be full-time caregivers for their children regardless of their different socioeconomic circumstances (Ochiai, 1997). John Bowlby’s (1969a; 1969b) maternal deprivation theory introduced to Japan in this period ideologically underpinned the mother’s role as a full-time caregiver (Ochiai, 1989). Rising male wages and the development of Japanese company employment customs, such as long-term employment and seniority-based family wage for men, provided the material bases for fathers to be stable breadwinners and for mothers to be full-time caregivers.

Also, the postwar welfare systems, including public health insurance and public pensions, were established on the basis of this family model (Osawa, 1993). These systems provide financial advantages to families with unemployed wives or wives earning annual incomes of less than 1.3 million Japanese Yen (JPY) (US$10,802 based on the exchange rate of US $1 = 120.35 JPY as of January 12, 2007), most of whom are part-time workers. A notable example is that these wives are covered by public health insurance and the national pension scheme without paying any contributions, contrary to the requirements imposed on full-time working wives who must contribute to such programs. A large number of private companies offer dependent allowances to the husbands of these wives. It is argued that these financial advantages have functioned as a disincentive for wives to work full time (OECD, 2003; Osawa, 1993). Thus, until the mid-1970s, under normal expectations a father’s most important role was being the financial provider of the family.

Since the mid-1970s in Japan, with the advances brought about by an affluent society, children’s deviant behaviors, such as violence towards parents and school refusal, attracted public attention. The absence of a father in the family was blamed for such deviant behaviors. At first, child-rearing experts emphasized the father’s role as a socializer, such as a moral instructor, a role model, and/or a playmate of children. Since the 1990s, however, greater attention has been placed on the father’s care-giving role (Taga, 2005). The various difficulties mothers experienced, for example, isolation for full-time mothers and the juggling of work and child care for working mothers, were blamed for people’s unwillingness to marry and have children. Japanese society in the 1990s witnessed a rapid decline in the total fertility rate from 1.54 in 1990 to 1.36 in 2000 (Statistical Research and Training Institute, 2006) and the unmarried population increased: The percentage of unmarried women aged 25 to 29 rose from 40.2% in 1990 to 54.0% in 2000 (Statistics Bureau, 2005). To solve such difficulties, fathers’ involvement in child care was emphasized (Meguro & Yazawa, 2000). Actually, “child-caring” fathers were already emerging (Ishii-Kuntz, 2003). To summarize, the expectations of a father’s direct interaction with his children have increased since the mid-1970s and two different types of expectations coexist. One assumes that the father and mother have different natural dispositions: therefore, fathers were expected to discipline children with patriarchal authority or to be a male role model. The other, assuming no large gender differences in natural dispositions, is to expect fathers to perform all parenting roles, including that of nurturer (Taga, 2005).

In terms of the father’s breadwinning role, the economic environment underpinning this role has been shaken since the mid-1990s. Facing global economic competition, a Japanese employers’ organization argued for adopting a performance-based wage in place of the seniority-based wage and long-term employment (Nihon Keieisha Dantai Renmei, 1995). Employers actually promoted labor force flexibility, supported by the government’s policy of deregulation of the labor market (Kimoto, 2006). The unemployment rate rose to 5.4% in 2002, from 2.1% in 1990. Wages, which kept rising from the 1960s to the mid 1990s, then began to fall (Statistical Research and Training Institute, 2006). The expected scenario in such a context was that wives’ labor participation would expand to supplement their husbands’ income, which would lead to an increase in the husbands’ role in sharing housework and child care.

Similarly to the U.S., Japanese society in the beginning of the 21st century witnessed realities different from the expected scenario. It was female workers and their younger and older male counterparts who were most seriously affected by increased labor-force flexibility. In contrast, the employment of men aged 30 to 59 was relatively protected. Unemployment rates and the percentage of lower-paid non-regular employees versus all employees were far lower for men aged 30 to 59 than for other workers (Kimoto, 2006). The reasons behind such job protection practices included some employers’ concerns about falling morale among core workers, resulting from a sense of job insecurity, and others’ belief that on-the-job-training during long-term employment is one of the most important sources of business competitiveness (Kimoto, 2006; Nikkei Shinbun, 2006). Since the majority of married women quit employment when they have children and usually reenter the labor market as lower-paid part-timers when the youngest child reaches about age 10 years old (OECD, 2003; Tanaka, 1996; Yamato, 2005), men aged 30 to 59 continue to be the main breadwinners even under the economic recession.

Research in the U.S. suggests that financial worry from these circumstances correlates negatively with marital happiness (cf., White & Rogers, 2000). Conger et al. (1990) found that subjective economic pressure increased husbands’ hostility and wives’ depression and, through these paths, reduced both parties’ marital happiness. Further, wives’ labor participation did not necessarily promote husbands’ substantial involvement in housework (cf., Berk, 1985; Greenstein, 2000; Morris, 1990).

One reason for Japanese women leaving full-time employment when they have small children is the long working hours expected of all employees. In 2001, 65% of male employees in Japan worked more than 42 hours a week, 20% worked more than 60 hours a week. This compares with 30% and 11%, respectively, in Austria and 37% and 14% in Ireland (OECD, 2003), which are two countries that have relatively high levels of work hours when compared to nations in Europe. Japanese men aged 30 to 44 work particularly long hours (Kimoto, 2006). According to the OECD report, long working hours closely relate to secure employment. Japanese core employees, in exchange for their protected employment, accept adjustments of their working conditions, including working hours. Working long hours is believed to signal that the worker is fully responsible for his or her work and is doing their best to accomplish it successfully. Employees recognize that a lack of this signal will be disadvantageous to their income and future career (OECD, 2003).

Consequently, men’s involvement in housework and caregiving tasks at home continues to be very low (an average of 22 to 36 minutes a day, including weekends) regardless of the wife’s employment status (Statistics Bureau, 2001). In contrast, wives perform household work for much longer hours: full-time employed wives average almost 4 hours a day, part-time employed wives average 5 hours, and full-time housewives average 7 hours (Statistics Bureau, 2001). Thus, the actual scenario under this recession is that men continue to be the main breadwinners and rarely participate in domestic work, even though their real wages have decreased. In contrast, women contribute to the household finances to various degrees in addition to shouldering almost all of the housework and caregiving at home.

Father-Child Interaction in Japan

Cross-national surveys have repeatedly shown that Japanese fathers are less likely than their Western counterparts to interact with their children. The “Fathers and Children Survey” conducted in 1986 compared father-child relationships between Japan, the U.S., and the former Federal Republic of Germany (Management and Coordination Agency, 1987). The respondents were fathers of children aged 10 to 15 years old living at home and one of their children. Surveyed Japanese fathers were less likely to have daily interaction with their children than their American and West German counterparts. However, Japanese children did not consider themselves “fatherless.” Despite their fathers’ frequent absence from home, the Japanese children (62.4%) were more likely to consider their fathers to be the center of the family than American children (22.8%) and German children (12.9%). On the basis of these results, Ishii-Kuntz (1992) argues that Japanese fathers psychologically maintained authoritative power and respect in their homes, though they physically remained at the periphery. For this to be possible, Japanese mothers play an important mediating role to create an artificial image of absentee fathers as an authority figure and to transmit this image to their children.

In 1994, almost a decade after the previous survey, the “International Comparative Study on Family Education” was conducted (Japan Association for Women’s Education, 1995). The respondents for this survey were one of two parents with at least one child aged from 0 to 12 years living at home. This survey replicated almost exactly the results of the previous survey: Japanese fathers were less likely than their Western counterparts to interact with their children in terms of discipline, providing meals, and giving advice on problems. Also, the breadwinning role was more important for Japanese fathers than for their British and American counterparts. However, one finding that was different from the previous survey was that Japanese fathers played with children as often as their Western counterparts did. A national survey conducted in 1998 reported similar findings, in that fathers were far more likely to play with their children than to feed them or change their diapers (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 2000). Funahashi (1999) argues that Japanese fathers are willing to be involved in the pleasant aspects of child rearing, but they avoid less pleasant interaction with children such as day-to-day child care and disciplining. Hence, fathers in contemporary Japan are expected to play with the children, but to a lesser extent take care of them.

So, what kinds of factors promote Japanese fathers’ involvement with their children? Ishii-Kuntz, Makino, Kato, and Tsuchiya (2004) found that situational factors such as fathers’ shorter working hours, mothers’ full-time employment, fewer adults and more children in households, and younger ages of children are significantly associated with higher levels of paternal involvement, but attitudinal factors such as husbands’ and wives’ gender ideology are not. Suemori (2004) reports similar results: Fathers’ shorter working hours and fathers who are not in managerial positions are associated with higher levels of father-child interaction, whereas fathers’ gender attitude is not. These studies, however, did not focus on differences between child care, playing with the children, and interacting with them.

Fathers’ Household Activities and Mothers’ Marital Satisfaction

Recent fatherhood scholarship points to the importance of looking at father-mother relationships in order to understand various aspects of fatherhood such as father-child relationships and fatherhood identity (Marsiglio, 1995; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000). The present study explores the relationships between fathers’ household activities, related aspects including emotional support, and mothers’ marital satisfaction. In the context of the changing socioeconomic circumstances and shifting expectations of fathers’ roles, the first question this study aims to answer is, among Japanese families with small children, what kinds of fathers’ household activities increase the mothers’ marital satisfaction. Lamb (1998) identifies four major father roles in contemporary families. First, breadwinning remains a key component of the father’s roles even today. Second, fathers function as a source of emotional support for the mother (and other family members). Third, fathers can be involved in housework, thus reducing the mother’s workload. Fourth, fathers influence their children by interacting with them directly. As presented in the previous section, the father’s indispensable role in contemporary Japan undoubtedly continues to be that of the breadwinner. The present study focused on the last three roles. In regard to fathers’ direct interactions with children, it is appropriate to distinguish caregiving from playing with them. Therefore, the present study analyzed the following four fathers’ household activities: giving emotional support to the wife, performing housework, performing day-to-day child care, and playing with the children.

Studies in the U.S. and Japan have found that emotional support from husbands positively affects wives’ marital satisfaction or marital well-being (Erickson, 1993; McGonagle, Kessler, & Schilling, 1992; Suemori, 1999). Belsky and Hsieh (1998) reported that supportive co-parenting is more likely to keep marital relationships functioning well than unsupportive co-parenting, though co-parenting in their measures does not include actual child care tasks such as feeding and bathing. Shelton and John (1996), in their review of the literature on the relationship between the division of household labor and women’s marital satisfaction, reported that few studies have found any consistent relationship between the two, although several studies did find that the effect of the former on the latter is mediated by other factors, such as women’s perceptions of how fairly the housework is divided (Pina & Bengtson, 1993; Robinson & Spitze, 1992, Greenstein, 1996) and women’s employment statuses. The present study explored fathers’ roles in a changing economic situation and focused on the latter factor. Research in both the U.S. and Japan have found that for full-time employed wives, the participation of husbands in housework positively affects their marital satisfaction, but part-time or nonworking wives whose husbands help with housework experience no such effect (Ozawa, 1987; Pina & Bengston).

One weakness of these studies is that they failed to take husbands’ paid work into full consideration. In an economic situation where husbands’ wages were less secure, not only the wives’ paid work but also that of the husbands’ should be considered. The present study introduces a variable called wives’ income contribution to the household, which is the percentage of the wife’s income against the total of her and her husband’s income. The second question addressed by this study uses this variable to assess whether the effects of husbands’ household activities on the wives’ marital satisfaction differ between wives with higher income contributions versus those with lower income contributions.

Method

Sample

The following analyses employed representative data for Japan that were collected in 2004 by the Japanese Family Sociology Association and the committee of National Family Research in Japan. The respondents were born between 1926 and 1975, ranging in age from 28 to 77 years on December 31,2003. A total of 10,000 people were chosen through stratified random sampling and from the 10,000 surveys distributed during January and February 2004, a total of 6,302 completed surveys (63.0%) were received. Data from married women aged 60 and younger who have at least one child aged up to 12 years and a husband aged up to 60 (N= 659) were analyzed in the present study. In the following analyses, the 659 cases are divided into two groups according to the extent of the married woman’s income contribution to the household: wives who earned nothing or less than 30% of the total of wives’ and husbands’ combined income (less-than-30% group; n = 541 [82.1%]), and those who earned 30% or more of combined income (30%-and-over group; n = 118 [ 17.9%]). The reasons for dividing the cases in this manner are, first, a contribution of 30% or more of the total household income was assumed to be substantial and, second, an earlier Japanese study found that married women who earn 30% or more of the household income are quite likely to have less traditional attitudes toward the division of housework between partners when compared to those who earn less than 30% (Yamato, 1995). Wives in the less-than-30% group account for the overwhelming majority among families with small children in Japan. The average ages of wives and husbands were 36.3 and 38.2 years, respectively. The average number of children per couple was 2.0. The differences between the two groups for these characteristics were not statistically significant.

Statistical Analysis

Multiple regression analyses were conducted separately for the less-than-30% group and the 30%-and-over group. The wives’ marital satisfaction was used as the explained variable. The explaining variables are husbands’ emotional support extended to their wives, performance of housework, performance of day-to-day child care tasks, and playing with the children. The control variables are the youngest child’s age, the wives’ years of education, the husbands’ annual incomes, and whether or not the respondents have a grandmother residing with them or living within walking distance. These variables were used as controls based on previous findings that a Japanese couple’s life stage and social class affect the wife’s marital satisfaction (Kinoshita, 2004). Also, the presence of a grandmother within the same household has been found to decrease the level of Japanese husbands’ participation in housework because the grandmothers, not the husbands, share housework with wives (Matsuda & Suzuki, 2002; Tsuya & Bumpass, 2004). Hence, a grandmother residing with or living within walking distance was expected to affect a wife’s expectation of her husband’s participation in housework and child care.

The means and standard deviations of key variables are reported in Table 1. There were no significant differences between the two groups in demographic variables such as the youngest child’s age, wife’s years of education, and the presence of a grandmother. The exceptions were husband’s years of education plus wife’s and husband’s annual income: Women with higher income contributions were very likely to have husbands who had fewer years of education and earned a lower level of income than other husbands.

Measures

Demographic information. The youngest child’s age was coded in years. Wives’ and husbands’ years of education completed were coded into the response categories of graduation from “junior high school” (9), “high school” (12), “higher education for 2 years” (14), and “higher education for 4 years and over” (16).

Wife’s and husband’s annual income. Wives were asked to report their own annual income and their husbands’ annual income, respectively, before taxes during the past year. The response categories were “received no income” (0), “less than 1 million JPY” (50), “1 to less than 1.3 million JPY” (115), “1.3 to less than 2 million JPY (165)”, “2 to less than 3 million JPY” (250), followed by further response categories at intervals of 1 million JPY up to “12 million JPY or more” (1250).

Wife’s’ marital satisfaction. Wives were asked to indicate the extent of their satisfaction with the marital relationship. The response categories were “very satisfied” (4), “somewhat satisfied” (3), “somewhat dissatisfied” (2), and “very dissatisfied” (1).

Husband’s emotional support for wife index. Using a 4-point scale of “applies” (4), “somewhat applies” (3), “applies little” (2), and “does not apply at all” (1), wives were asked to indicate the extent of their husband’s emotional support for them with the following three statements: “My husband listens to my concerns and worries,” “My husband highly appreciates my ability and effort,” and “My husband offers me helpful words and advice.'” Responses to all items were added together for a possible range in values from 3 to 12. The reliability (Cronbach’s alpha) for these three items was 0.87 for the less-than-30% group and 0.88 for the 30%-and-over group.

Performance of housework index. The wives were asked to report the extent of their own performance and their husband’s performance, respectively, of the following 5 activities: preparing meals, washing dishes, grocery shopping, washing clothes, and cleaning rooms. The response categories for these items were, respectively, “almost everyday” (6.5), “4 or 5 times a week” (4.5), “2 or 3 times a week” (2.5), “once a week” (1), and “almost never” (0). Responses to all activities were added together for a possible range in values from 0 to 32.5.

Performance of day-to-day child care. The wives were asked to report the extent of their own performance and their husband’s performance of child care, respectively, with the following question: “How often do you (or your spouse) currently provide child care?” The response categories were the same as those for the performance of housework.

Playing with the children. The wives were asked to report how often they and their husbands, respectively, play with their children: “How often do you (or your spouse) currently play with your children?” The response categories were the same as those for the performance of housework.

Grandmother residing with or living within walking distance. The wives provided information about how far their mothers and their husband’s mothers lived from their residence. This variable is a dummy variable that indicates the presence of either mother residing with or living within walking distance: “yes” (1) and “no” (0).

Results

To clarify the relative contributions of wives and husbands, the average percentages of the wife’s contribution out of the combined wife’s and husband’s contributions to household income, housework, day-to-day child care, and playing with the children were calculated. For wives with less-than-30% income contribution, their average income contribution accounts for only 6% of total, but they do almost all of the housework (93%) and day-to-day child care activities (83%). These couples have a so-called ‘husband-breadwinner, wife-homemaker’ lifestyle. As noted previously, they account for most couples in this life stage. In contrast, wives with 30%-and-over income contribution contribute 46% on average to the household income, 86% to housework, and 75% to child care. These wives make a substantial contribution to the household income besides shouldering most of the “second shift” (Hochschild, 1989) of domestic work. Husbands of wives with 30%-and-over income contribution share housework and child care more than other husbands, but only 14% and 25% of the combined wife’s and husband’s housework and child care, respectively. Husbands’ share of playing with the children is higher for both wives’ income groups (33% and 38%, respectively) than percentages for child care (17% and 25%, respectively).

Next, four models of multiple regression analyses were used separately for wives with less-than-30% income contribution and for their counterparts with 30%-and-over income contribution. First, the results for wives with less-than-30% income contribution will be considered. In all four models, the explained variable is women’s marital satisfaction, and the control variables are the youngest child’s age, wife’s years of education, husband’s annual income, and presence of a grandmother residing with or living within walking distance. In Model I, husbands’ emotional support and their performance of housework are used as explaining variables. According to the results, husbands’ emotional support has a strong positive effect on wives’ marital satisfaction, whereas husbands’ performance of housework has no effect (see Model I for the less-than-30% group in Table 2). The patterns of the effects of these two variables are the same for Models I1 to IV for this group of wives, so only statistics from Model IV are reported in Table 2. In Model 11, husbands’ performance of child care is used as an additional explaining variable, and has a positive effect on wives’ marital satisfaction (/5′ =. 11, p < .01). In Model III, husbands' performance of playing with the children is used as an explaining variable in place of their performance of child care in order to compare the effect of the two variables with the result that husbands' playing with the children also has a positive effect on wives' marital satisfaction ([beta] =. 15, p < .01 ). However, comparing the value of Re between Model II ([R.sup.2] = .463) and Model III ([R.sup.2] = .471), Model III, which includes the variable of husbands' playing with the children, fits the data better than Model 11, which includes the variable of husbands' child care.

In Model IV, husbands’ performances of child care and of playing with the children are simultaneously used as explaining variables. As suggested by Model III, only husbands’ performance of playing with the children, and not of day-to-day child care, is positively associated with wives’ marital satisfaction (see Model IV for the less-than-30% group in Table 2). These results show that for wives with lower income contributions, their marital satisfaction is increased most when their husbands provide emotional support, but is also modestly increased when husbands play with the children rather than perform child care tasks.

The same analyses were conducted for wives with 30%-and-over income contributions. In Model I, both explaining variables of husbands’ emotional support and their performance of housework have positive effects on wives’ marital satisfaction (see Model I for the 30%-and-over group in Table 2), although the effect of husbands’ performance of housework disappears when either the husbands’ performance of child care or of playing with the children are used as additional explaining variables in Models II to IV for this group of wives. In Model II, husbands’ performance of child care as an additional explaining variable has a positive effect on wives’ marital satisfaction ([beta] = .20, p < .05). In contrast, husbands' performance of playing with the children has no significant effect on wives' marital satisfaction ([beta] =. 18, p < .1) in Model III where this variable is used as an explaining variable in place of husbands' performance of child care. Also, the value of [R.sup.2] significantly increases from Model I to Model II when the variable of husbands' performance of child care is used, but it did not from Model I to Model III when the variable of their playing with the children is used. This indicates that the goodness of fit is significantly improved when the variable of husbands' performance of child care is added, but not when the variable of husbands' playing with the children is added.

In Model IV where both husbands’ performance of child care and of playing the children are used simultaneously, neither has a significant effect on wives’ marital satisfaction (see Model IV for the 30%-and-over group in Table 2). One reason these two variables show no significant effect could be that the correlation between these two variables is so high for women in this group that multi-colinearity may occur (see correlation and VIF statistics reported in table footnote). Also, the smaller sample size for this group could contribute to this. However, even though not statistically significant, the value of [beta] for husbands’ performance of day-to-day child care is larger than that for playing with the children in Model IV for the 30%-and-over group. Taking all these results into consideration, one can argue that for wives with higher income contribution, husbands’ performance of child care has a stronger positive effect on wives’ marital satisfaction than that of playing with the children, although the latter might also have some effects. This result contrasts with that for wives with lower financial contribution where husbands’ playing with children, not performing child care tasks, has a positive effect on wives’ marital satisfaction.

To summarize, husbands’ emotional support promotes wives’ marital satisfaction regardless of the extent of income contribution, while husbands sharing housework has no significant effect on wives’ marital satisfaction. The effects on wives’ marital satisfaction of a husband’s direct involvement with their children differ according to the extent of the wife’s financial contribution. For wives with lower income contributions, their marital satisfaction is significantly increased by their husbands playing with the children rather than performing day-to-day child care. This is in contrast to wives with higher financial contributions, whose marital satisfaction is increased by their husbands’ performance of day-to-day child care more than their playing with the children. These results can be interpreted as follows: Japanese mothers regard their husbands’ emotional support as essential for their satisfaction with the marital relationship; their husbands sharing housework does not appear to be necessary; and for mothers with lower income contributions, their husbands playing with the children is also essential; whereas, for mothers with higher income contributions, their husbands performing day-to-day child care is more important.

Discussion

Previous studies drawing on data collected in the mid- 1980s argued that Japanese families were physically but not psychologically “fatherless.” For this to be possible, Japanese mothers played a mediating role between the absentee father and his children. Using data collected at the beginning of the 21st century, evidence was found that beyond essential emotional support, the husbands’ physical presence at home provides opportunities for direct interaction with their children, which actually increases the mothers’ marital satisfaction. Contemporary Japanese mothers, therefore, appear to prefer direct over indirect father-child interactions.

Another important finding is that the kinds of father-child interaction that most positively affects mothers’ marital satisfaction differ between mothers according to income contributions to household. For wives with lower income contributions, whose husbands are quite likely to have higher levels of income, their husbands playing with the children is important for a satisfying spousal relationship. Husbands in this majority group can therefore meet their wives’ expectations, at least to a certain extent, even if they play with the children only on weekends and not on a daily basis. In contrast, for wives with higher income contributions, their husbands sharing substantial child care tasks is more important for keeping the marital relationship satisfying than their husbands playing with the children. In order for the husbands of this latter group to meet their wives’ expectations of them performing day-to-day childcare, it is necessary for them to return home earlier on a daily basis, not just to be at home on weekends. Since the husbands of this latter group are quite likely to have lower levels of income, their wives’ full-time employment is indispensable to the family income. Husbands participation in day-to-day child care will reduce the wives’ workloads and increase marital satisfaction, which has implications for their children. Parents’ marital quality, according to studies in the U.S. and Japan, affects their children’s well-being. For instance, parents’ marital tensions contribute to parent-child tensions (Almeida, Wethington, & Chandler, 1999), and parents’ marital quality measured by a marital happiness scale was found to positively affect children’s psychological well-being (Sugawara, 2003). Husbands’ daily participation in child care, therefore, is important for families especially when wives contribute more to the families’ income.

The present study has several limitations. First, because the fathers’ activities were measured on the basis of reports from their wives, the actual performance of these activities by fathers may be somewhat different from the reports. Second, this study used several single-item measures for complex concepts, such as, mothers’ marital satisfaction, fathers’ performance of child care and playing with the children. Third, respondents in the less-than-30% group numbered almost four times as many as those in the 30%-and-over group. While this reflects the fact that the majority of Japanese mothers with small children do not stay in the labor market, the results of the analyses were affected by this difference (e.g., the level of Beta values needed to be significant varied between groups).

While the findings of the present study need to be carefully interpreted with these limitations in mind, the study does reveal important findings. Contemporary Japanese fathers are not homogenous. They have diverse identities (Ishii-Kuntz, 2003) and they also face different kinds of fathering expectations from their spouses. For couples with non-working or part-time-working wives, it is important that fathers play with their children; whereas, for couples with full-time-working wives it is more important that fathers perform daily child care. These findings suggest that policies supporting fathers’ child rearing involvement need to be sensitive to the differentiated expectations for fathers. The design of education programs should include information about the diversity of fatherhood for Japanese fathers and mothers to suggest ways they might enrich their marital relationships.

These findings also have important implications for policy to improve the work-life balance in the workplace. The Japanese government is now asking mid- to large-scale companies to provide an action plan for promoting work-life balance for employees, including a plan to increase fathers’ involvement in child rearing (Nikkei Shinbun, 2002). Studies in Japan have found that it is fathers’ time availability, rather than their egalitarian attitudes, that promote their involvement in child rearing (Ishii-Kuntz, et al., 2004; Matsuda, 2000; Suemori, 2004). Currently in Japan, employees are entitled to child care leave with 30% income replacement until the child is one year old. Although both parents are entitled to take this leave, mothers take it in almost all cases (OECD, 2003). This fact indicates that the available leave program does not substantially promote the fathers’ involvement in child care, which could negatively impact marital quality, especially marital quality for couples with wives in full-time employment. Thus, more needs to be done to encourage fathers, especially fathers with full-time working wives, to take such leave so as to increase their participation in child care.

The results of the present study suggest that measures for promoting fathers’ participation in child rearing should be sensitive to the differentiated expectations of fathering. It is recommended that companies should consider the introduction of additional paid child care leave given by the hour, which should be targeted at fathers of preschoolers whose wives are currently working and earning more than a prescribed level, such as 1.3 million JPY annually. The findings of the present study suggest that the provision of child care leave to husbands with full-time housewives or wives making lower income contributions will not have a positive effects on marital quality because husbands sharing daily child care was not significantly associated with their wives’ marital satisfaction. Thus, the targets of such a program should be husbands who have wives making higher income contributions. Such targeted leave will reduce the total cost for employers, who introduce it, compared to providing the leave to all fathers regardless of their wives’ employment status. The leave should be given not by the day, but by the hour so that a father, for instance, can leave his office one hour early to pick up his children from nursery and take care of them. Such a strategy would also better address the concerns of male workers about interrupting their careers. Moreover, this leave for fathers should have an income replacement level as high as 70%; otherwise fathers will likely hesitate to take the leave because their wives’ incomes are relatively low.

One might argue against a system of targeted leave because child care leave provided only to fathers who have wives earning more than 1.3 million JPY annually is unfair to other fathers. As mentioned previously, however, current Japanese social policies and companies’ management policies already provide various kinds of financial assistance to families with full-time housewives or wives earning less than 1.3 million JPY annually (OECD, 2003; Osawa, 1993). This is despite the fact that the husbands of these wives are very likely to have higher levels of income than other husbands. To balance out this advantageous treatment, it would be appropriate to provide additional child care leave, namely more time availability, to fathers of families whose wives have higher income contribution. Another possible benefit of this child care leave for fathers might be as an incentive for mothers to continue full-time employment. It would be a good start for companies to introduce such a system of targeted child care leave and to examine the effects on employees, their families, and the companies themselves.

The author gratefully acknowledges the use of the survey, the National Family Research Japan 2003 (NFRJ03) conducted by the National Family Research Committee of the Japan Society of Family Sociology. The present study analyzed the third version of the data. Data collection was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research by the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture of Japan for the 2001 to 2004 academic years, and a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research of the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare of Japan in the 2003 to 2004 academic years.

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REIKO YAMATO

Kansai University

Osaka, Japan

Reiko Yamato, Faculty of Sociology, Kansai University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Reiko Yamato, Faculty of Sociology, Kansai University, 3-3-35, Yamate-cho, Suita Osaka 564-8680, Japan. Electronic mail: ryamato@ipcku. kansai-u.ac.jp

Table 1

Descriptive Statistics of Key Variables According to the Extent of the

Wife’s Income Contribution to the Household (N = 659)

Less-than-30% (n = 541)

Variables Mean SD Actual [alpha]

range

Wife’s marital satisfaction 2.88 0.80 1-4

Husband’s emotional support 9.04 2.29 3-12 0.87

index

Performance of housework

Husband’s index 2.30 2.96 0-18.5 0.52

Wife’s index 28.20 3.98 1-32.5 0.53

Performance of child care

Husband 1.74 2.17 0-6.5

Wife 6.39 0.72 0-6.5

Playing with the children

Husband 2.61 2.23 0-6.5

Wife 5.02 2.22 0-6.5

Youngest child’s age 5.03 3.69 0-12

Years of education

Husband 14.16 2.19 9-19

Wife 13.12 1.56 9-19

Annual income (10,000 JPY)

Husband 569.36 235.48 50-1250

Wife 34.81 52.78 0-350

Grandmother residing with or

living within walking distance 0.47 0.50 0-1

30%-and-over

Variables Mean SD Actual [alpha]

range

Wife’s marital satisfaction 2.86 0.83 1-4

Husband’s emotional support 8.76 2.40 3-12 0.88

index

Performance of housework

Husband’s index 4.64 6.03 0-26.5 0.81

Wife’s index 25.26 6.32 3-32.5 0.74

Performance of child care

Husband 2.74 2.59 0-6.5

Wife 6.15 1.21 0-6.5

Playing with the children

Husband 2.98 2.38 0-6.5

Wife 4.59 2.43 0-6.5

Youngest child’s age 5.07 3.82 0-12

Years of education

Husband 13.59 2.18 9-19

Wife 13.15 1.82 9-19

Annual income (10,000 JPY)

Husband 445.97 243.38 0-1250

Wife 361.10 208.18 50-1250

Grandmother residing with or

living within walking distance 0.57 0.50 0-1

Note. US$1 = 120.35 JPY (2007/01/12)

Table 2

Summary of Simple Regression Analyses for Variables Predicting Wives’

Marital Satisfaction for Two Wives’ Income Groups (N = 659)

Wives’ income contribution Less-than-30% (n = 541)

Model I

Variable B SEB [beta]

Youngest child’s age -0.01 0.01 -0.06

Wife’s years of education -0.01 0.02 -0.01

Husband’s annual income 0.00 0.00 0.02

Presence of a grandmother -0.06 0.05 -0.04

Husband’s emotional support 0.23 0.01 0.65 *

Husband’s housework 0.02 0.01 0.06

Husband’s child care — — —

Husband’s playing with children — — —

Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.456

F 76.461 *

Wives’ income contribution Less-than-30% (n = 541)

Model IV

Variable B SEB [beta]

Youngest child’s age 0.00 0.01 -0.01

Wife’s years of education 0.00 0.02 -0.00

Husband’s annual income 0.00 0.00 0.03

Presence of a grandmother -0.06 0.05 -0.04

Husband’s emotional support 0.22 0.01 0.62 *

Husband’s housework 0.01 0.01 0.02

Husband’s child care 0.01 0.02 0.04

Husband’s playing with children 0.04 0.02 0.13 *

Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.471

F 61.009 *

Wives’ income contribution 30%-and-over (n = 118)

Model I

Variable B SEB [beta]

Youngest child’s age -0.01 0.02 -0.04

Wife’s years of education -0.02 0.03 -0.03

Husband’s annual income 0.00 0.00 0.00

Presence of a grandmother -0.04 0.12 -0.02

Husband’s emotional support 0.20 0.03 0.58 *

Husband’s housework 0.03 0.01 0.19 *

Husband’s child care — — —

Husband’s playing with children — — —

Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.428

F 15.568 *

Wives’ income contribution 30%-and-over (n = 118)

Model IV

Variable B SEB [beta]

Youngest child’s age 0.01 0.02 0.06

Wife’s years of education -0.02 0.03 -0.05

Husband’s annual income 0.00 0.00 0.08

Presence of a grandmother -0.03 0.12 -0.02

Husband’s emotional support 0.19 0.03 0.54 *

Husband’s housework 0.01 0.01 0.10

Husband’s child care 0.04 0.03 (a) 0.14

Husband’s playing with children 0.03 0.04 (b) 0.10

Adjusted [R.sup.2] 0.446

F 12.760 *

* p < .0l.

(a, b) Pearson’s correlation between the two variables is 0.705. VIF

is 2.450 for (a) and 2.459 for (b).

Note. The results of Model I and Model IV only for each of the two

wives’ income groups are reported in this table. The full tables and

statistics are available by request from the author.

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