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Principal Earner and Accommodator in Household

An illustration of gender stratification process in contemporary Japan
TANAKA Sigeto <http://www.sal.tohoku.ac.jp/~tsigeto/>
(Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University)
Gender Law and Policy Annual Review. Vol. 1: pp. 25-48 (2004)

National Institute of Informatics Online cataloging system (NACSIS-CAT) number (NCID): AA11961193.


These files are different from the published version. Citation should be made from the published journals.


This paper has two objectives: (1) formalization of an aspect of the gender stratification process in contemporary societies, and (2) a critical examination of the current Japanese gender-equal policy using the formal model of stratification.

I start with Obi’s (1969) illustration of household supply of labor. Obi points out that households always have two types of workers. One is the principal earner (PE), who takes the charge of earning income, with no responsibility for housework. The other is the accommodator (AC), who takes double roles of earner and housekeeper, according to the family needs.

Then I focus on the gender stratification process through three steps as follows. The first step is the sex-typed determination of the worker type: most men become PE, while most women become AC. The second step is the working style differentiation between the two types of workers: AC often must give up full participation in paid work since they must arrange the hours between paid and unpaid work, while PE can fully participate in paid work continuously. The third step is the determination of earnings: full participation in workforce brings higher payment than partial participation. These processes constitute the gender stratification, in which men hold the advantage over women in earning power.

The second half of this paper contains critical examination of the Japanese gender policies with the latest findings. The Japanese Government has taken two kinds of measures against the gender stratification: (1) support to workers for full participation in paid work despite family responsibilities, such as daycare centers and shorter working hours, and (2) institution of established partial participation in the work system, such as parental or family care leave. These measures can be regarded as the measures against the second and the third step, respectively, of the gender stratification process above.

Recent quantitative studies have revealed these measures to be insufficient to offset AC’s disadvantage. (1’) It is estimated that AC can hardly make full participation in paid work, even if the conflict between work and family matters is successfully eased with the shorter working hours and the growing capacity of daycare centers, as scheduled in the current policy. (2’) Parental leave entails enormous opportunity cost for leave-takers, due not only to the lower payment during the leave, but also to the loss in the human capital that will damage their career in the long run. In short, the current policies cannot realize any gender-equal society.

The last possible measure is against the first step of the gender stratification process: the sex-typed PE/AC choice. This paper will conclude that in the future gender-equal society, if any, men and women will become AC with the equal probability. Men’s partial employment due to family responsibilities is hence the key to gender equality, and is of urgent importance as research question for the stratification study.


moderate work/family balance, family-friendly work system, gender-equal policy

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