1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Project: Ageing, Development and Social Protection

Case Study by Tetsuo Ogawa

  • Project from: 2001 to 2003



Elder care is a major social issue in many industrial societies as well as in developing countries. This paper tries to analyse care, intergenerational welfare and informal social protection by using the case of Japan, one of the most advanced industrial societies in East Asia. The main theme of this paper is a focus on the importance of relations between generations in welfare production for elder care. The analysis of this paper will provide discussions on intergenerational relations and welfare state debates by the analysis of Japan's care provision with the use of two concepts, welfare pluralism, and social equity and economic efficiency.

Welfare production is the product of four sectors and their combinations. These sectors are the informal sector (family, relatives and neighbours), the statutory sector (for example local authorities), the private sector (profit oriented private corporations) and the voluntary sector such as charity organisations (non-profit and private).

In industrial societies, intergenerational relationships have been a source of social solidarity but have also resulted in conflict between generations following social policy developments. Much research about the informal sector has shown intergenerational welfare exchanges within the family and it has been emphasised as the most important source for welfare provision for older people. Apart from that, this kind of social policy contract is related mainly to intergenerational welfare transfers of resources through social security. However, it appears that most industrial societies are faced with a new generational crossroad because of the advanced stage of ageing populations. The issue of intergenerational equity and the debates are now relevant to most industrial societies because of the disruption of social contract between generations.

In Japan, women have historically been obliged to care for their kin because of their traditional gender roles. This kind of practice has been based primarily upon ideas of family lineage, kinship obligations and gendered care giving. It has often been emphasised that the informal sector participants such as families have provided a substantial amount of care for older people. In most cases, the main care-givers have tended to be women rather than men. These care-givers have usually been daughters-in-law rather than daughters or sons as in Chinese societies. This tendency has been based upon the traditional women's role as carers in the Japanese society. There has been a heavily reliance upon the informal sector for cultural and historical reasons.

However, the current trend of informal sector aged care has declined due to socio-economic factors and policy imperatives, e.g. changes in Japanese society, changes of gender roles, demographic pressures, economic factors and the advanced stage of industrialisation. It appears that the current trend in welfare production is transforming from the traditional welfare production to another type of mixed welfare production by the combinations by the four sectors mentioned above rather than only by the informal sector. Intergenerational caring relationship remains the main source of care for older people in industrial societies, but it is still the only form of care available to those in developing countries.

In Japan, there has been debate recently on the question of the appropriate relationship between public and private care services for older people. The introduction of the Social Care Insurance Scheme, a new policy measure for elder care, and a growing awareness about elder care should encourage more careful examination of the relationship among generations and the generational contract. The debate about generations is also being focused increasingly on the social and moral obligations of the middle aged and young people to the growing number of older population, and vice versa. Japan as a welfare state has operated as a system of intergenerational reciprocity by balancing this generational equity of pension and care. The Japanese government plays a key role in the provision of pensions, but ageing populations have pressurised pensions and social security. Therefore, it is argued that the government needs to create a new generational contract based upon the old generational contract in welfare provision.

This paper will examine the Social Care Insurance Scheme (SCIS), and present and future arrangements of care service for older people by the informal, statutory, and voluntary and private sectors in Japan. Section 1 offers a brief history of care service providers for older people and outlines the recent position and focuses on intergenerational relations between kin, while Section 2 focuses on the role of the statutory services and their relationships with voluntary and private service provision to tackle an extended introduction to the twin dimensions of generational relations and their interaction in determining welfare. Sections 3 and 4 apply economic efficiency (cost efficiency) and social equity (social equality) analysis to this situation with an emphasis on the role of rationing. In particular, it will examine how future care arrangements can help to meet service users' needs and the relevance of government social care policy such as the Golden and new Golden Plans (1990; 1994) on future policy making for social care within the context of generational relations and generational equity in a welfare state. This is followed by a discussion in Section 5 of the Japanese context in policy development. Section 6 discusses privatisation in the Japanese context with a series of Public Administration Reforms, and the impact of these likely developments and implications for future social care policy. These reforms will be critically and finally discussed within the intergenerational conflict thesis from the perspective of one of the most advanced industrial societies. A key theme from this analysis will be to examine how a new social care structure with the Social Care Insurance Scheme (SCIS) can supplement public care services in meeting the needs of older people by satisfying two elements of consideration, social equity and economic efficiency, and the likely future developments for the new care service arrangement.