A Case Study: Aging, Gender, and Japanese Society
A Significant increase in the older population in Japan has occurred over the past 30 years. whereas it took almost a century in North America and Europe. If the present trend continues in Japan. by 2025 people age 65 and over will make up about 25 percent of the total population. and more than half of the older population
will be over 75 years of age. It is widely assumed that older people are respected and revered in Japan; however. several recent studies suggest that socio cultural changes and population shifts may be bringing about a gradual change in the social importance of the elderly in that nation. Until recently. most of the focus on the aging population in Iapan’ has been on men and the workplace. Currently, feminist activists in that country are questioning why there has been so little attention given to the health and aging of women who are age 40 and above. When women have been discussed in regard to the aging population, the subject has primarily been caregiving for elderly relatives. For example, the “homebody” or “professional housewife” who cares not only for her husband and children but also
for other relatives, particularly the ill and the aged, has been used as the “ideal” model of the Japanese woman, against whom all others are measured. However, with over 60 percent of Japanese women in the labor force,greater pressure is being placed on Japanese policy makers to consider how the government can playa
larger role in the care of th e aging population, rather than placing the burden completely on families, particularly women. As one analyst explained,Because financially secure middle-class women are assumed to represent Japanese women as a whole, the situation of the majori ty who must give up work to look after their relatives, often at great cost to the well-being of the entire family, is usually erased
from national consciousness. Moreover, many live to be well over ninety years of age, and daughtersin- law in their seventies find themselves … caring for one or more incontinent, immobile, and sometimes senile relatives. Furthermore, because stroke is the usual cause of disability among the elderly population in Japan, intensive nursing is often required, but men assist veT)’ rarely with this onerous
duty. It is, therefore, the debate about home nursing and living together as a three-generation family that takes up most of the energy of activist women in Japan today …. (Lock, 1999: 61) Challenges such as these are presented by the aging of the population not only in Japan but also in the United States and other nations. Social policy issues about older people reflect the intertwining nature of class, gender, and age as individuals and nations adapt to the “graying” of their populations. Those persons who are growing older, whether in Japan or any other nation, seek to have both greater longevity and a high qualityof life during their later years.