Historical Social Research

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Emiko Ochiai, Unsustainable Societies: The Failure of Familialism in East Asia’s Compressed Modernity [Abstract]

Fertility in some East Asian societies has declined to a new global low level, which can be called “ultra-low fertility.” The first question of this article is whether East Asia is going through a second demographic transition just like Europe. The second question is whether individualism is the cause of the change. The answer to the first question is both yes and no, because the demographic changes currently underway in East Asia have similarities to those in Europe and North America, but there are considerable differences in essence. Unlike Europe, where cohabitation is replacing marriage, marriage as an institution of duty and responsibility rather than intimacy is still intact in East Asia. Because of that, risk-aversive individualization occurred to avoid the burden of a family. It is not individualism but familialism that is causing the current demographic and family changes in East Asia. Different degrees of compression of modernity created the varieties of familialism: familialist reform in Japan and “liberal familialism” in other societies. We may conclude that both types of familialism have failed in constructing a sustainable social system.