- 歴史と経済 (ISSN:13479660)
- vol.57, no.3, pp.11-20, 2015-04-30 (Released:2017-08-30)
The theme of this symposium (What Is the Middle Class?) emphasizes the importance of lifestyle and values rather than occupation and income level as the defining components of the middle class. As is well known, the increase in the number of people who regarded themselves as middle class during the period of rapid economic growth after World War II gave birth to the so-called 'all-middle class society' in Japan. It has been shown that their middle-class consciousness derived from a lifestyle and values focused on consumption. This paper therefore focuses on the history of consumption and elucidates the following points. It was in the 1920s-30s that a middle-class model was formed based on consumption levels and patterns rather than on the social prestige or culture associated with occupation and type of employment. Although this model was certainly influenced by that of the USA, its consumption patterns revealed certain Japanese characteristics. For example, Japanese consumers preferred small-scale mom-and-pop retail stores rather than large-scale stores such as GMS. As a result, the commercial sector was able to sustain many self-employed households and to expand business opportunities during rapid growth and thereby to allow the acquisition of sufficient income to meet middle-class consumption levels. Moreover, this model was inextricably linked to the norm of the 'modern family' as a consumption unit. Traditional families changed drastically in these years, for example in the reduced number of children in a household. They willingly accepted birth control and family planning in order to build an affuluent life. At the same time, many married females engaged not only in reproductive activity but in productive activity as well to acquire money sufficient for the middle-class levels of consumption, so that the male-breadwinner family did not in fact become the majority. These women were not entirely happy because they could not take time for housework, child-rearing and leisure. The 'all-middle class society' focused on consumption entailed various conflicts between time and money. From the comparative perspective of this symposium, this type of 'all-middle class society' based on consumption was not formed in contemporary China or India because of differences in historical conditions. Income inequality and family structures give rise to large variations in the consumption levels and patterns in these countries. It is important to take the historical particularity of Japan's 'all-middle class society' into account when considering the Comparison between Developed and Emerging Countries.