From: Victoria Brown
College: U.C. Santa Cruz
Instructor: Eugene Matusov
ClassWeb: http://www.ematusov.com/psych100D
ChildrenObservations: No
Date: 13 Jun 1997
Time: 18:07:37
Remote Name: ss1mac-01.ucsc.edu


This paper explores the roles of Japanese women of the 1960's and the 1970's as compared to Japanese women of the 1990's in Japan. Specifically it focuses on two areas- women in the workplace and women in the home. My theory is that there will be more changes in the workforce- i.e., better positions and more advancement- for women throughout the years and less change in regards to how the family structure is set up. From these theories, I have concluded that the workplace has changed but to a lesser degree than I thought and that the family structure has not altered to a significant degree in the past thirty years.


The changing roles of women in society has always been a very interesting topic to me. As a woman, I am intrigued by the different roles that women have in different cultures and across time. After completing a group project contrasting the lifestyles of Japanese young women and Japanese American young women, I became interested in the changes that have occurred between young Japanese women today and their couterparts twenty or thirty years ago. I would like to discover how their lives are similar and different across this time span. To focus my discussion, I will look at two primary forces that give some indication to the values and attitudes of Japanese women- these are the workforce and the family structure.

Coming from an American point of view, which has seen a great deal of advancement in womens' rights in recent years, I theorize that Japanese women play a greater role in leadership positions in the workforce today than in the 1960's and 1970's. From the research I onbtained for my group project, however, it does seem to indicate that women have a high regard for the family unit- i.e., husband and children. Therefore, I will theorize that women's roles in the family have not changed very much in the past thirty years. From the areas of work and family, I hope to reach some conclusion about how attitudes and beliefs of Japanese women in regards to their general lifestyle have altered over the years.

For Japanese women of the 1960's and 1970's, being a mother and a wife were the most important obligations a woman had. (Lebra, Paulson, & Powers, 1976) Yet a certain touch of irony is added to this because of the fact that at this time, women made up forty percent of the workforce. (Lebra, Paulson, & Powers, 1976, p.21) When one delves deeper into this fact, however, it is seen that a large portion of these women- seventy three percent- were clerical, service and factory workers. (Lebra, Paulson, & Powers, 1976, p.21) From this information, then, there seems to be some sort of conflict between work and family. On the one hand, a Japanese woman of this time wanted to devote herself fully to her family and on the other hand, many Japanese women worked. Why and how do these two lifestyles work together?

Since World War 2, there has been a large amount of economic growth in Japan, creating more industries and hence, more jobs. This, in turn, led to more women seeking employment. The reasons? According to "Women in Changing Japan", many women chose to take up a job to save for their children's education and to better her own lifestyle- i.e., save to buy a house. (Lebra, Paulson, & Powers, 1976, p.64) For unmarried women, working meant saving money for a dowry and contributing to their parents' income. (Lebra, Paulson, & Powers, 1976, p.67)

One would think that with the large amount of women in the job force, there would be better pay, chances of promotion and overall equality for women. Yet this was not the case in the 1960's and 1970's and it is not really true in today's Japan either. In the 1970's, a part-time employee, which was and still is almost a completely female dominated area, complained of "job insecurity, lack of benefits, conflict with full-time workers, and job dissatisfaction." (Lebra, Paulson, & Powers, 1976, p.61)

These problems stemmed from the other side of a Japanese woman's life that is very important- family. The main reason that work conditions were not improving were because of the importance placed on running a household and raising children. Although there were many women that worked, the majority of them quit when they got married or when they had children. Because of the temporary status of these women, as well as a woman's duty to be a wife and mother, employers and the government thought it unnecessary to provide benefits or advancement. Their attitude was, why spend the time and money to train them if they are going to leave in a couple of years? The attitudes of the women at this time reflected this stance as well. Although Japanese women of the 1970's agreed that women were treated unfairly in their jos, many also baliaved that it was not good to work after marriage. (Lebra, Paulson, & Powers, 1976, p.68, 69)

At this point, it is necessary to look into the family structure of the sixties and seventies in Japan. In a typical family, the husband was the breadwinner and quite absent from the home life. While women of this time agrred that the husband was to make the important decisions in the household, the wife's and mother's role was definitely seen as central. The woman had her household chores, raising and helping the children with schoolwork, balancing the family budget and at the same time, in many cases, carry on a part-time job. (Lebra, Paulson, & Powers, 1976, ch.3) This multitude of duties returns back to the reason that it seemed quite impossible for a woman in Japan to take on a full time career.

Now what has happened since then? Have women's lives changed significantly? Are there facilities to help a woman juggle a family and a career, such as childcare centers and more of a role for the man in the household? The answers are both yes and no. In the past few decades, things have changed. Many more women are more educated and can therefore seek better jobs than their counterparts of the seventies. According to "The Material Child", "the number of girls entering college is about equal to that of boys" (White, 1994, p.61) However, "mothers tend to promote their sons' educational futures more than those of their daughters." (White, 1994, p.61)

This statement leads us once again to the family structure and why boys are still favored over girls. There are many possible explanations. First of all, the parents of these children are coming from a generation that is accustomed to a male career oriented lifestyle and a female family centered lifestyle and therefore may use these as examples for their children. This leads into the ever popular idea that a woman's place is in the home and a man's place is in the workforce.

What is interesting to note, however are the beliefs held by Japanese in today's society. There seems to be some conflicting and divergent ideas coming from Japanese males and females on the topic of career and family. From a 1987 survey of men's and women's attitudes, it was found that there is still a good amount of support (43% men and 52% women) for the idea that "women should quit working when children are born but return to work when they are old enough to need less care." (Iwao, 1993, p.163) In contrast, an FY 1995 National Survey on Lifestyle preferences found that more Japanese women agree that "both partners should independently pursue their chosen roles." (author unkown, 1995) What does this tell us? Perhaps that women feel differently about their roles in Japan.

When conducting an interview with a Japanese woman for a class group project on attitudes in Japan, she stated that there are only two options for a woman in Japan. Either a woman can get a secretarial job and once married quit the job, or a woman can have a full time career and remain single. These ideas are overwhelmingly supported by the literature. (Iwao, 1993; Tanaka, 1995) Because of these limited choices, Akiko, the woman interviewed, decided that she would rather stay in the United States so that she had a chance at having a career and a family. So basically the lifestyles in Japan may be gender constrained a bit, but the attitudes of the women are changing. This is supported by the ever emerging role they are showing by either moving abroad or working for a foreign owned company in Japan, which may have better oppurtunities for women. ( Iwao, 1993)

What is happening in the workforce today in Japan? Mainly, more women are being put in managerial positions- mostly single women- and there has been some reform on equal treatment. In 1986, the Equal Employment Oppurtunity Law (EEOL) was put into effect. (Iwao, 1993, p.177) This law states that "it is illegal to advertise jobs by sex and age, to have different hiring standards for men and women and to limit on-the-job training to men." (Tanaka, 1995, p.111) However, there is no clause for enforcement on this law so discriminating practices do continue. It does seem to be a step in the right direction.

How does this growing workforce of career women affect the traditional family structure that still exists in Japan today? According to the White paper on the National Lifestyle for 1995, there has been a steady decline in the amount of housewives since 1985, a decrease in the number of children, and women marrying later or staying single. These factors lead to, naturally, a better chance for women to earn a living for themselves. This does not necessarily mean that the traditional family values are changing, just that less women are following that path. There is still an abundance of part-time female workers, just as there were in the sixties and seventies. The main difference in today's society is that the new roles women are taking on are being somewhat accepted and perhaps changing the face of Japan's industries and homes.

In conclusion, my theories regarding the rise of equality in the workforce from the 1960's and 1970's has been proven correct in some ways and incorrect in other ways. There has been a rise in higher education for women, leading to better jobs but there still is not a high degree of equality in job hiring practices, benefits and advancement in companies in Japan. My theory concerning women's roles in the family is correct because the views of a good family life have not changed. What has changed is the number of women not opting for this lifestyle by not marrying or marrying later to give themselves a chance in the career world. Beliefs and attitudes about these two topics have changed considerably. Today, Japanese women feel the need for equality that their mothers of another generation did not feel; it was accepted that men and women are different and therefore have different lives to lead. Japan has a long way to come in equal oppurtunity practices but this will only happen if the people are willing to change the gender constrained society that is Japan today.


Iwao, S. (1993). THE JAPANESE WOMAN. New York: Macmillan, Inc.

Lebra, J., Paulson, J., & Powers, E. (1976). WOMEN IN CHANGING JAPAN. Colorado: Westview Press.

Tanaka, Y. (1995). COTEMPORARY PORTRAITS OF JAPANESE WOMEN. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

White, M. (1994). THE MATERIAL CHILD. California: University of California Press.

White. (1995). WHITE PAPER ON THE NATIONAL LIFESTYLE-THE ECONOMIC PLANNING AGENCY, GOVERNMENT OF JAPAN. http://entrance.epa.go.jp:70/Oh/doc/life95s4-e-e.html

Author Unknown. (1995). FY 1995 NATIONAL SURVEY ON LIFESTYLE PREFERENCES. http://entrance.epa.go.jp:70/Oh/doc/senkodo-e.e.html

Last modified August 06, 2015