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Unmarried Daughters as Family Caregivers: Evolving Family Relationships, Gender Order, and Singlehood in Japan

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Jee, Eunsook

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Department of Anthropology, Seoul National University
Korean Anthropology Review, Vol.5 No., pp. 85-116
This study is based on an ethnography of daughters taking care of their parents in Tokyo, Japan. I focus on the allocation of caregiving responsibilities for elderly parents among their children, especially in terms of its effects on unmarried daughters and its impact on the singlehood of unmarried women. As in South Korea, research on singlehood in Japan has proceeded from the concerns with childbirth and reproduction, largely focusing on revealing singlehoods causes. However, in order to improve our understanding of the phenomena of increased life expectancy and non-marriage as well as the overall demographic trend toward an aging society, it is necessary to adjust the perspective of singlehood research. Therefore, in this study I attempt to portray the lives of unmarried individuals by describing the family relationships of unmarried, middle-aged women, especially unmarried daughters caring for their parents. Through this approach, I will expand the scope of singlehood research to include those engaged in family life that is actually happening rather than focusing on marriages that never took place. This approach can provide useful implications for understanding the changes in family relationships and gender order that are occurring in an aging society with a high prevalence of singlehood. Primary research data was collected through an on-site survey in Tokyo, which was conducted for 18 months at monthly meetings for daughters taking care of their parents. The first step in the study was to understand what makes unmarried daughters the most suitable individuals for taking care of their parents. In particular, I paid attention to disparities in the allocation of caregiving responsibilities among children, according to gender and marital status. The second step in the study involved observing how daughters are pressured to become good caregivers. My focus here was on the strained relationships between caregiving daughters and care-receiving mothers and on the conflicts surrounding the work-caregiving balance. Furthermore, in this study I highlight the agency of unmarried women as they traverse the gender order. I trace the ways in which unmarried female caregivers facing diverse hardships are gaining a public voice while restructuring their singlehood. And I explore how such efforts create gaps and possibilities within the family-based social system and the male-centered gender order.
2508-8297 (Print)
2671-7123 (Online)
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