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Reviewed by:
  • Aging and Social Policy: A German-Japanese Comparison
  • Susan Orpett Long (bio)
Aging and Social Policy: A German-Japanese Comparison. Edited by Harald Conrad and Ralph Lützeler. Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien/iudicium verlag, Munich, 2002. 353 pages. €45.00.

The literature on social policy widely recognizes that the aging of the population presents challenges to governments of industrialized societies. In particular, policymakers grapple with questions of how to support the nation's retired population and how to provide medicine and care for ill and frail older people. Yet there are few detailed comparisons of how nations have responded to these issues at the micro level. This book attempts to fill in that gap by laying side by side descriptions of German and Japanese policies in these two areas. Its contribution is significant. [End Page 476]

The volume began with a 1997 conference in Bonn, but most chapters have been revised to incorporate discussion of German pension reforms of 2000-2001 and the introduction of public long-term care insurance in Japan in 2000. It consists of 15 chapters, divided into four sections. The introduction by editors Harald Conrad and Ralph Lützeler is one of only three explicitly comparative chapters and it thus provides both essential background information and a framework for analysis. The editors explain that Japan and Germany share similarities in the political and social regulation of their pension and care insurance systems, in contrast both to the free-market approaches of Britain and the United States on one hand and to social democratic models of the Scandinavian countries on the other. Japan and Germany have chosen to rely on social insurance-based programs rather than providing benefits directly from taxes, systems that are more susceptible to financial difficulties as the population ages. These systems are also based on a "performance/achievement model" of support in which benefits are tied to employment status and the individual's financial contributions into the system.

Instead of state guarantees of rights to minimum needed income and care for all citizens, Japanese and German policies have also relied on familism, particularly the assumption that women would not be employed full time but rather would be available to care for children and the elderly. Lack of support for childcare, the editors claim, has led to declining birth rates, which in turn have resulted in rapidly aging populations, decreased contributions to social insurance programs, and declines in the ability of families to provide support and care. In recent years, the German and Japanese systems have shifted toward greater efforts to control costs, especially toward neoliberal policies with greater mixes of private programs with public assistance. Yet the editors argue that despite the similarities of their challenges and their common target of adopting a welfare system to respond to the globalization of labor, German and Japanese policies also show significant differences in their methods of reaching their goals. The remainder of the volume contains historical and policy analyses that support this view, but, with a few exceptions, the underlying reasons for different policy choices remain elusive.

Part II of the book contains three chapters under the heading "Demographic and Policy Implications of the Aging Society." Makato Arai's chapter reviews the history of the social security system in Japan in familiar terms. It is important background for readers unfamiliar with the development of Japanese welfare policies in the twentieth century but does not add anything new. The perspective presents the Japanese government as passively responding to changing economic and demographic circumstances rather than as a major player in the creation of these conditions. In the next chapter, Hiroshi Kojima analyzes demographic changes in Japan from the [End Page 477] perspective of living arrangements of the elderly, looking at the effects of wealth, sibling configuration, and geographic factors. He finds primogeniture alive and well, assumes a single-caregiver model based on coresidence, and thus predicts greater family conflict as more people express desire for care by their own daughters rather than daughters-in-law. Unfortunately, he uses a 1989 database, leaving unaddressed the changes that have occurred in the last 15 years. The third chapter in this section provides parallel background on...


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