Marital Satisfaction and Work-Life Balance: A Viewpoint Indispensable to Mitigating Fertility Decline

Date September 15, 2006
Speaker YAMAGUCHI Kazuo(Visiting Fellow, RIETI / Professor of Sociology, the University of Chicago)
Moderator YAMADA Masato(Deputy Director of Administration and Deputy Director of Research, RIETI)


There are two sides to the issue of work-life balance: creating a society where people can work flexibly, and enhancing satisfaction with one's family and individual life through flexible work arrangements. Focusing on the latter to obtain implications for the former, Professor Kazuo Yamaguchi reported that work-life balance greatly affects marital satisfaction and wives' desire to give birth, and offered specific proposals such as changing the working style of men and reconsidering the concept of work-sharing.

A fundamental reconsideration of the balance between work and life is necessary

Professor Yamaguchi pointed out that "unless compatibility between work and family life is socially enhanced, the trend toward later marriage, no marriage, and fewer childbirths will not stop. In order to achieve satisfaction in life, it is important for an individual to have access to many options from which to choose one that best suits him or her. However, the current situation in Japan is such that one's freedom to choose is limited, and the balance between work and life is extremely poor. We need to make it possible for people to work more flexibly, and conduct a fundamental review of the relationship between workplace flexibility and economic productivity."

If workplaces and the overall labor market adopt more flexibility toward employed women, the trend for a rising female labor force participation to cause decrease in fertility rate will be reduced greatly, as seen in such countries as the Netherlands and several English-speaking countries (the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia). Scandinavian countries have been able to stem fertility decline by arranging working environments that make childrearing compatible with work life such as by legally promoting child-care leave and child-care facilities. Japan lags far behind in these measures.

"Marital satisfaction" and "confidence in husbands' ability to provide emotional support" increase wives' desire to give birth

Professor Yamaguchi explained that wives' desire to give birth greatly influences fertility rate. He introduced the results of his analysis which showed that, 1) wives' desire to have their first and second child increases with greater "marital satisfaction," 2) wives' "confidence in their husbands' ability to provide emotional support" increases their birth desire, and 3) wives' confidence in their husbands' ability to provide financial security increases their desire to have a first child but does not affect their desire to have two or more children. Professor Yamaguchi also noted that the decline in marital satisfaction caused by the burden of rearing the first child is a major obstacle toward bearing a second.

The most important factor affecting marital satisfaction is "valuable time spent together"

In order to clarify determinants of "marital satisfaction," Professor Yamaguchi conducted a preliminary analysis, concluding that for both employed wives and fulltime homemakers, marital satisfaction was greatly affected by whether or not they consider main home activities -- "relaxing," "housework and childrearing," and "hobbies, recreation, and sports" on holidays, "dining" and "relaxing" on weekdays -- as valuable time spent with her husband.

Moreover, Professor Yamaguchi reported that based on statistical analysis of a panel survey in which data for 1,117 married women was collected over time, work-life balance factors such as "main home activities spent with husband" (the five activities mentioned above), amount of conversation between wife and husband on weekdays, and proportion of the husband's share in childrearing, had a significant positive effect on marital satisfaction. On the other hand, factors such as "duration of marriage," "birth of the first child," and "husband's unemployment" had a negative impact.

"Emotional support" is three times as important as "financial security" in determining a wife's confidence in her husband

Seventy percent of variation in wives' marital satisfaction can be explained by their confidence in their husbands' emotional support and financial security. According to Professor Yamaguchi's analysis, factors that have significant impact on the wife's confidence in her husband's emotional support include, in order of significance, "main home activities" (the five joint activities mentioned above), "amount of couple's conversation time on weekdays," "total time spent together on holidays," and "proportion of the husband's share in childrearing." On the other hand, factors that have significant impact on the wife's confidence in her husband's financial security include, in order of significance, "the husband's income," "main home activities," "amount of couple's conversation time on weekdays," and the "savings, deposits, and equities held by the household." This indicates that non-financial factors such as time spent in companionship and conversation had an effect not only on wives' confidence in the husband's emotional support, but also on their confidence in the husband's financial security.

Specific measures toward the realization of a work-life balance

In conclusion, Professor Yamaguchi pointed out that in order to achieve better work-life balance, "it is important not only to reform institutions by increasing flexibility of the workplace and labor market, but to alter the way married couples spend their time at home. In particular, couples need to increase the "quality" of time they spend together at home by offering each other emotional support. The professor discussed three points as specific ways to realize work-life balance: the way men work, reconsideration of work-sharing, and promotion of men's participation in childrearing.

Firstly, Professor Yamaguchi noted that it was absolutely necessary that Japanese men stop their globally unparalleled practice of returning home from work extremely late at night. He stated that the negative effect on marital satisfaction of a reduction in income that would accompany by not working overtime could easily be compensated for by the rise in marital satisfaction, by its determinants which cannot be bought with money. He pointed to results of his analysis that showed that a decrease in marital satisfaction due to a ¥100,000 decline in monthly income would be compensated by an increase in conversation time between husband and wife by 16 minutes per weekday or a 54 minutes increase per holiday in time that a wife can feel she is spending valuable time with her husband.

Secondly, the work-sharing system, introduced in Japan as a means of maintaining employment in times of economic downturn, was originally aimed also at increasing the number of employees in times of heightened labor demand so that work hours per day would not rise and workers would have sufficient time off, and sharing good-quality employment with more workers. However, the professor said this system is not functioning well in Japan due to the huge disparity in treatment between regular and non-regular employees, and pointed out the importance of enabling short-time regular employment and reducing the disparity between regular and non-regular employment.

Thirdly, Professor Yamaguchi revealed that marital satisfaction falls sharply after the birth of the first child because of the huge emotional strain on the wife, who in a nuclear family must face never-experienced childrearing practice without husband's support, and that in order to reduce such negative childrearing experiences it is important for fathers to be encouraged to take child-care leave, for fathers with babies to go home earlier, and for married couples to share more "main home activities."

Men should also know the joys of childrearing

In response to questions from the audience, Professor Yamaguchi said that on the issue of men participating in rearing children, "I think there is no real difference between men and women in the ability to raise children, but the joys of raising children will not be understood until it is experienced, as my personal experience convinces me." On the issue of the long overtime hours put in by workers such as those in government ministries and agencies, he said, "In the U.S., working long hours is a proof of inefficiency, and it is important for people to learn self-disciplinary time management."

>> Original text in Japanese

*This summary was compiled by RIETI Editorial staff.