JAPANESE WOMEN - CULTURE
Japanese Women - History, Education, Workforce
Participation and Japanese Women in the Workforce.
Japanese Women History
Gender has been an important principle of stratification
throughout Japanese history, but the cultural elaboration of gender
differences has varied over time and among different social classes. In the
twelfth century (Heian period), for example, women could inherit property in
their own names and manage it by themselves. Later, under feudal governments
(the Shogunate), the status of women declined. Peasant women continued to
have de facto freedom of movement and decision making power, but upper-class
women's lives were subject to the patrilineal and patriarchal ideology
supported by the government as part of its efforts at social control. With
early industrialization, young women participated in factory work under
exploitive and unhealthy working conditions without gaining personal
autonomy. In the Meiji period, industrialization and urbanization lessened
the authority of fathers and husbands, but at the same time the Meiji Civil
Code denied women legal rights and subjugated them to the will of household
heads. Peasant women were less affected by the institutionalization of this
trend, but it gradually spread even to remote areas. In the 1930s and 1940s,
the government encouraged the formation of women's associations, applauded
high fertility, and regarded motherhood as a patriotic duty to the Japanese
After World War II, the legal position of women was redefined by the
occupation authorities, who included an equal rights clause in the 1947
Constitution and the revised Civil Code of 1948. Individual rights were
given precedence over obligation to family. Women as well as men were
guaranteed the right to choose spouses and occupations, to inherit and own
property in their own names, to initiate divorce, and to retain custody of
their children. Women were given the right to vote in 1946. Other postwar
reforms opened education institutions to women and required that women
receive equal pay for equal work. In 1986 the Equal Employment Opportunity
Law took effect. Legally, few barriers to women's equal participation in the
life of society remain.
Japan Women - Education and workforce participation
Gender inequality, however, continues in family life, the
workplace, and popular values. The notion expressed in the proverbial phrase
"good wife, wise mother," continues to influence beliefs about gender roles.
Most women may not be able to realize that ideal, but many believe that it
is in their own, their children's, and society's best interests that they
stay home to devote themselves to their children, at least while the
children were young. Many women find satisfaction in family life and in the
accomplishments of their children, gaining a sense of fulfilment from doing
good jobs as household managers and mothers. In most households, women are
responsible for their family budgets and make independent decisions about
the education, careers, and life-styles of their families. Women also take
the social blame for problems of family members.
Women's educational opportunities have increased in the twentieth century.
Among new workers in 1989, 37 % of women had received education beyond
upper-secondary school, compared with 43 % of men, but most women had
received their postsecondary education in junior colleges and technical
schools rather than in universities and graduate schools (see Education in
In 1990 approximately 50 % of all women over fifteen years of age
participated in the paid labor force. At that time, two major changes in the
female work force were under way. The first was a move away from
household-based employment. Peasant women and those from merchant and
artisan families had always worked. With self-employment becoming less
common, though, the more usual pattern was separation of home and workplace,
creating new problems of child care, care of the elderly, and housekeeping
responsibilities. The second major change was the increased participation of
married women in the labor force. In the 1950s, most women employees were
young and single; 62 % of the female labor force in 1960 had never been
married. In 1987 about 66 % of the female labor force was married, and only
23 % was made up women who had never married. Some women continued working
after marriage, most often in professional and government jobs, but their
numbers were small. Others started their own businesses or took over family
businesses. More commonly, women left paid labor after marriage, then
returned after their youngest children were in school. These middle-age
recruits generally took low-paying, part-time service or factory jobs. They
continued to have nearly total responsibility for home and children and
often justified their employment as an extension of their responsibilities
for the care of their families. Despite legal support for equality and some
improvement in their status, married women understood that their husbands'
jobs demanded long hours and extreme commitment. Because women earned an
average of only 60 % as much as men, most did not find it advantageous to
take full-time, responsible jobs after marriage, if doing so left no one to
manage the household and care for children.
Yet women's status in the labor force was changing in the late 1980s, most
likely as a result of changes brought about by the aging of the population
(see Elderly people in Japan). Longer life expectancies, smaller families
and bunched births, and lowered expectations of being cared for in old age
by their children have all led women to participate more fully in the labor
force. At the same time, service job opportunities in the post-industrial
economy expanded, and there were fewer new male graduates to fill them.
Some of the same demographic factors�low birth rates and high life
expectancies�also change workplace demands on husbands. For example, men
recognize their need for a different kind of relationship with their wives
in anticipation of long postretirement periods.
Japanese Women in the Workforce
After World War II, the fixed image of the Japanese woman
has been that of the office lady, who becomes a housewife and a kyoiku mama
after marriage. But a new generation of educated women is emerging, that is
seeking a career as a working woman.
Japanese women are joining the labor force in unprecedented numbers. In 1987
there were 24.3 million working women (40% of the labor force), and they
accounted for 59% of the increase in employment from 1975 to 1987. The
participation rate for women in the labor force (the ratio of those working
to all women aged fifteen and older) rose from 45.7% in 1975 to 50.6% in
1991 and was expected to reach 50% by 2000.
The growing participation of women reflected both supply and demand factors.
Industries such as wholesaling, retailing, banking, and insurance have
expanded, in large part because of the effective use of women as part-time
There is a new term for the female counterpart of the "salaryman" (サラリーマン),
the "career woman" (キャリアウーマン).
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