Thursday, December 20, 2012

Women, Population and Work - Another Look

The other day I introduced the interesting reversal in trends in attitudes regarding women and work to be found in the "Survey on Social Participation of Men and Women" (Danjo kyodo sanka shakai in kan suru yoron chosa) released on December 17. For the benefit of those who were unable to find the graphs in question, I reproduce them below, with links to the original pages.

"The husband should be outside working; the wife should keep house"

(Link - J)

"It is all right for women to continue working, even after they have children"

(Link - J)

In both cases, we see the onset of a wave of young fogies, where youngsters in the 20-to-29 years of age cohort have attitudes toward the roles of women, marriage and childrearing resembling those of persons 60 years of age and older, rather than their immediate superiors.

This is a new phenomenon. In previous surveys the youngest cohort has been among the most comfortable with wives working or women staying in the workforce.

Why the sudden reversal? The survey does not ask the respondents why they feel the way they do. I called the cohort the "echo boomers" -- the counterpart of the children of the baby boomers found in population pyramids for the United States. It would probably be better to call the current cohort of 20-to-29 year olds the Bubble Babies -- those born when Japan's rise in GDP and climb up the per capita income ladder were topping out, when families could live comfortably on but a single salary.

The 20-29 age cohort is struggling. In part this is because of the depressed economy, which has reduced the capacity and willingness of companies to hire large numbers of permanent workers.

The youngest cohort may also be struggling due to a lack of education. Today's 20-29 year olds are the first age cohort is to have all its members educated under yutori kyoiku ("easy-going education") system. The lowering of academic requirements and the decrease in the number of class hours may have left this cohort far less prepared for independent life than the cohorts that preceded it.

An aside - the yutori kyoiku reforms were repealed for elementary school children starting in 2002. The last children educated under the loosened system will graduate from high school in 2014. So when you find "strengthening the education system" in a political party's manifesto, the party in question is not really talking about improving education. That train left the station long ago. "Improving education" is a smokescreen for foisting more patriotism and officially traditional mores upon children and breaking the backs of teachers' unions.

As for the role of women in public life, two pictures from yesterday:

President-elect Park Geun-hye celebrating her victory in the South Korean presidential election.
Former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko at an unserious danpatsu event. Koike had sworn she would not cut her hair until the Liberal Democratic Party had retaken power. Yesterday she let 64 friends and supporters take a snippet from her uncharacteristically shoulder-length locks.

The advent of an LDP government is predicted to lead to one improvement in the atmospherics of government: women in prominent cabinet roles. Whereas the purportedly liberal Democratic Party had only token appointments of women--prime minister Kan Naoto's and prime minister Noda Yoshihiko's cabinets having but a single woman in them -- the incoming Abe Shinzo cabinet may have as many as five women members. Koike Yuriko and Takaichi Sanae (one of the rare women to have graduated from the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management) are almost certain to be named to prominent posts.

Conservative parties -- the pathways to power for women in East Asia.

Image courtesies:
Top photo: Wall Street Journal
Bottom photo: Yomiuri Shimbun


sigma1 said...

With apologies in advance, I am going to call BS on the yutori kyoiku explanation. In fact, I don't think Yutori Kyoiku explains a single thing about anything related to education and general attitudes, which is more a shot at the general conservative concern with yutori kyoiku/education in Japan, than at yourself. First, I don't think the reforms were ever actually implemented properly. No one I have spoken to in the Japanese school system noted an actual change in terms of how hard the kids worked, even if class hours were reduced. They were kept busy all the same. Second, it seems to have made relatively little difference either way to important academic skills beyond rote learning in Japan. Indeed, whether you do more rote learning or less, beyond a certain point it is of little value. The system didn't fundamentally change with yutori kyoiku, and so I am doubtful whether this has had any direct impact upon how the younger generational cohort sees the world. They are still badly served by their educational system in terms of the skills required for globalization.

I would go for your first, more socio-economic explanation for the curious findings on gender expectations, and add in that there is probably resentment and insecurity regarding gender roles and increasing female achievements connected into this. Simply put, the boys probably see the writing on the wall - but are reacting to it in the wrong way.

kamo said...

At the risk of exposing my ignorance by mixing it with people obviously smarter than me, I've got to go along with sigma1 here. That 20-29 cohort may have been born in the Bubble, but just barely, and were in elementary school when it well and truly burst. It's stayed burst ever since. That cohort is the first to come to adulthood entirely in the Lost Decades. That economic environment is going to make anyone want to retreat to the seemingly easier path of cosy conservative traditionalism, regardless of any supposed weaknesses in their education.

I'd be interested to know what you think being 'less prepared for independent life' actually means, and how you think they were more so under the previous system (when, to make the point again, everything in the economic garden was lovely). That's not meant as a sarcastic rhetorical question either, I genuinely would like to know. As I say, I enjoy reading your stuff and respect your opinions, but this one seems way off target.

Anonymous said...

I am not familiar with Japanese everyday culture. Still, I don't mind saying it seems to me that women in Japan experience equality in the interactions of everyday life.

But in reading news on Japan, I also get the impression that women in Japanese corporate culture get screwed. I wonder how young Japanese girls are affected upon hearing news such as these:

[Japanese women constitute nearly half (48%) of university graduates. Yet this tranche of talent is woefully underutilized: Only 67% of college-educated women are currently employed, and many of them either languish in low-paid, part-time jobs or are shunted into dead-end “office-lady” roles serving tea for male managers and dusting their desks at the end of the day.

New data from the Center for Work-Life Policy finds that Japanese women with college degrees are much more likely than Americans (74% versus 31%) to quit their jobs voluntarily. But while childcare is the primary reason that most Western women take a career break, highly educated Japanese women are more likely to say that they’re pushed off the career track by unsupportive work environments and managers who do not value them. Nearly two-thirds (63%) say that they quit because their career was not satisfying and a startling 49% left because they felt stymied and stalled.

It’s not surprising that when a well-qualified woman is passed over for a plum assignment or is forced to watch a less-qualified male peer promoted before her, the decision to off-ramp and focus on family becomes a no-brainer. But that’s not to say that talented women who have spent years accumulating skills, experience and credentials want to abandon their careers over the long haul. Fully 77% of off-ramped women surveyed want to rejoin the workforce after a relatively short time out.

But on-rampers in Japan tend to run into a wall. Only 43% succeed in finding full-time employment, compared to 73% in the U.S. And, among those lucky enough to land a job, nearly half face cuts in salary and many others are forced to accept reduced management responsibilities and curtailed promotional prospects.]

Anonymous said...

[60-year-old Fukushima is one of Japan's most powerful executives, sitting on the board of both U.S. and Japanese-based multi-national companies. The fact that she is a female in one of the most male-dominated business cultures is a stunning backstory in one woman's remarkable ascent through the so-called "bamboo ceiling." Bamboo bends, and unlike glass, never breaks. But Fukushima managed to crack through, by working for a U.S. company.

"I was lucky to be in a place where the hard work was appreciated," said Fukushima, of her corporate beginnings at Korn-Ferry International. The American company saw her sales output, the highest in the Asia-Pacific region, as the reason for promotion.

An American mentor and her supportive husband urged Fukushima to push beyond her Japanese cultural expectations.

"If I was to work for a Japanese company, a large Japanese company, I don't think I would have come this far."

The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index ranks Japan 101 out of 134 countries. Part of the reason for the low ranking is that just 1.4 percent of Japanese executives are women.

What that has meant for women in the workplace is they are pushed to traditionally female roles: secretary and store clerk. It is a dismal reality for the world's second-largest economy, said Beth Brooke, Ernst and Young's Global vice chairwoman and a Forbes Magazine 100 most powerful woman.]

Anonymous said...

[The real reason there are so few Japanese women at the top: unrewarding careers.

It’s no secret that Japanese women are a woefully underutilized talent pool in the domestic labor market. But in a departure from the conventional wisdom that women tend to drop out of the workforce for family obligations or because a baby has arrived, a new study shows that the overwhelming reason for the female labor exodus is because their careers are unsatisfying.


What is more, Japan’s rigid and notoriously overworked work culture leaves little flexibility to manage a family and career when the time comes. Some 66% of women said they would not have quit their jobs if work arrangements allowed room for adjustments. Measures like having the option to telecommute from home a couple times a week or coming in later one morning to drop kids off at daycare in the morning would have been enough grease to keep some from heading for the door. But many of these ideas clash with the workplace value scale that tips heavily in favor of “face time.”

“They (Japanese women) were totally fine with putting in the 12-hour days, but why on earth couldn’t some of that be done between 9 to 11 p.m. at home when you’ve dealt with the kids and not with this sense that you’re betraying your team if you walk out the door before 7:30 p.m.,” said Sylvia Hewlett, one of the authors of the “Off-Ramps” study, based on her interviews with Japanese women.

These realities play towards why many Japanese women prefer working for U.S. or European firms. About 68% of Japanese women who identified themselves as career-minded or ambitious said they believed foreign companies are more woman-friendly than Japanese firms.]

The study: “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Japan: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success”

Unknown said...

I share Kamo's skepticism about the poll and these explanations. The supposed retreat to "conservatism" could as likely be a sign of desperation about being able to find a job. However, it's no surprise that the same media outlets that spin the election as a resurgence of Japanese nationalism or even as a shift of public mood in favor of Jimintou would spin this poll as a return to the retro values shared by too many policians.