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The Scope of Altruism

patriarchy and the modern family under Japanese law and norms
TANAKA Sigeto <http://www.sal.tohoku.ac.jp/~tsigeto/office.html>
(Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University)
Paper read at the annual conference, International Association for Feminist Economics, 2006-07-08 Sydney.



The reform of the Japan Civil Law in 1947 aborted the old patriarchal family system, and established the new “democratic” one. This reform established the gender quality in power, property, and inheritance under the law. During this half-century, such democratic family model have accepted by people. Nowadays there are few families following the old patriarchal family model.

While equality of basic rights has been achieved, great economic inequality has been remained within the family. In this paper, we examine the effects of social institution, such as law and norms, on economic inequality. We focus on the economic dependency within the family and the distribution of the capitals accumulated through household production. We take the theoretical perspective that inequality within the family would be determined by two factors: the scope of “altruism” and the legal provision on capital redistribution at the end of altruism.

Family sociologists regard the current Japanese family as a kind of the modern family, which is supported by altruism institutionalized by social norms. From the economic perspective, it has an important characteristic that the member’s welfare depends on each other’s welfare. So we can put an approximation that the family has the unitary utility function and equally distribute household production among the members.

However, this approximation has a problem that altruism often breaks in a short term. Families thus always face the risk of stopping guarantee equality. This risk can be partly reduced by legal actions to redistribute capitals among the family members when altruism ends, but the effect can be limited.

We have empirical and political questions: how and to which extent these factors determine equality within the family, and what is the possible measure to promote equality. We analyze Japanese law and court decisions to answer the questions.


divorce law, marital property, financial settlement, human capital, alimony


This research is supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (17710205), Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Government of Japan.

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Address: http://www.sal.tohoku.ac.jp/~tsigeto/office.html

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