2003 Student-Faculty Fellows: Spelman College

The Influence of Cultural Factors on the Labor Market Decisions of Japanese Women:
Views from Yokohama and Tokyo

Mentor: Bernice J. DeGannes-Scott, Department of Economics
Students: Camille Edwards ’04; Jahaan Johnson ’04; Lesley Jones ’04; Erin Poulson ’04

Research trip to Japan postponed to Dec. 2003-Feb. 2004 period because of 2003 SARS Crisis


Abstracts of Reflections and/or Research

Bernice J. DeGannes-Scott

The research project provided the opportunity for me to interact with various groups of Japanese women – the young and the middle-aged, high school girls and university women, housewives and working women. Meeting and chatting with the women was a pleasant experience – everyone showed interest in the project and willingly completed the questionnaire. As if speaking with one voice, they indicated that there is need for a change in the attitudes of the society towards women and work. But I had other experiences outside of the research environment. Daily travel on the public transportation system, visits to stores and places of cultural interest, and three weeks of living at the hotel in Yokohama allowed for a bird’s eye view of life in Japan. I saw a sophisticated society, and a gracious and disciplined people. The trip to Japan and the overall experience have opened up a new area of research for me. I plan to do research that compares the contributions of Japanese women with those of their American counterparts to the war effort during World War II.

Camille Edwards

By traveling around the city to visit different places and observe the people I had the opportunity to learn about their religion, how they celebrate the New Year, fashion and pop culture, and how to navigating the train system. Through all of this, I was able to get small glimpses into Japanese life and their culture. Nevertheless, it was by visiting the different groups of Japanese women that I learned the most about their society. The entire trip was a valuable learning experience.

After hearing some of the women speak about what lies ahead for them once they graduate from university I realized that I take for granted many of the opportunities that women in America have. I also found that the Japanese labor system is geared towards the single male. Many firms expect employees to work long hours everyday, leaving little time for oneself or one’s family. It also calls for staying with one particular job throughout one’s career because interruptions for any extended period of time mean that the person has to start from the bottom of the ladder. With such a working environment, women would have an exceedingly difficult time succeeding with children, than a man would if he had a wife to help care for the family. However, things seem to be changing among women and among Japanese society. Many of the women I spoke with expressed their desire to have both a career and a family and some of the older women expressed their desire to work more frequently after they finish raising their children.

Jahaan Johnson

My experience in Japan showed me that a country could have a very progressive way of life without totally abandoning the traditional ways as well. Watching the same young women who wore Western clothing most of the time don beautiful kimono for their Coming of Age Day made me wish that there was some sort of traditional way to highlight the importance of moving into the adult world in the U.S because these young people were just like myself and had the same issues and concerns I do. The trip also made me a more open, flexible, and appreciative person because in Japan there are set ways of doing things and one must know that there is a time and place for everything not do anything anytime you want like in the U.S.

Now that our trip is completed and I have had time to look back on my experience, this trip made me realize that balance is so important in a country’s livelihood. Perhaps in the U.S. we have destroyed too much of our past in an effort to progress. Also, this trip increased my willingness to be open to new things. Maybe the Japanese way of doing things is not the best, but neither is America’s or any other culture. It is by combining the best of all world cultures without forgetting the past that we will surely come to the best the international world can be.

Lesley Jones

After taking a Japanese society course, I felt I had a firm grasp on Japanese culture. While the knowledge I attained from taking this course was valid, it was only a fraction of what I came to learn during my three weeks in Japan. The culture there is so rich and their roots run exceptionally deep. Through excursions from the Daibatsu, to the Imperial Palace, to the National Archives of Japan, Japanese history and society are unveiled. The principles found in these arenas pour over into all forms of life as seen with the train platform and pedestrian walks. The vast knowledge acquired in Japan has enriched each day and will undoubtedly remain throughout life.

Overall, the trip to Japan was immensely edifying. The abundant culture and broad history could only fully be experienced first hand. Being able to interact with a variety of women and hear their experiences matured me as a woman. I am extremely grateful to ASIANetwork for this life altering and eye opening experience that will not soon be forgotten.

Erin Poulson

This life changing experience includes witnessing hundreds of worshipers at a shrine on New Year’s Eve to finding many commonalities with Japanese students. Though the practices of Japanese women to leave their jobs when they have children or get married may seem foreign in comparison to the ways of many American women, I found that after talking to Japanese women of all ages, I began to respect their decisions and understand their commitment to their families. In retrospect, Americans may need this same commitment to their families and children. This may possibly be a way to decrease juvenile delinquency, the divorce rate, the populations in our prisons, the high occurrence of drug use among teenagers, teenage pregnancy, and the high school dropout rate. Perhaps it is the sacrifice of Japanese women to forfeit careers for the safety and livelihood of their children and family that keep their society protected from these social anomalies.

Research Abstract

One hundred and thirteen (113) women were surveyed in Yokohama and Tokyo. The majority of them were between the ages of 18 and 24 and most were university or college students. Roughly 66% of the women reported that their fathers had attended university or college while the same proportion of their mothers did not. Of the women who were or had been in the labor force, only 28.6% had left work to marry and 75% of them had returned to work later. The two major income brackets for the 90.91% of women who worked were $0-$15,000 and $30,000-$45,000. Only 20% of these women were the main source of income while 60% responded that they worked for reasons other than supplementing their husband’s income.

The questionnaire requested the views of women on a variety of issues related to employment and the labor force. Over 50% of the women indicated that they felt employers have been acting favorably toward women in recruiting, placement, and promotion over the past ten years while 24.55% are not sure. The majority of respondents also indicated that they believed that Japanese women would choose to be housewives rather than have a career. The majority also felt that largest barriers to female labor force participation was the commitment of women to the family (they would rather get married) and because men do not want their wives to work. However, 84%, of the women thought that women should work after getting married, and 68.37% felt that women should work after having children. Over half of the women surveyed believe that American culture has influenced women to be more independent and to work full-time.

Venues for Sharing

In addition to the presentation at the ASIANetwork Conference in Lisle, Illinois, the students will present the paper at the following forums on the Spelman College campus:

March 27, 2004 – Toni Cade Bambara Conference (Hosted by the Spelman College Women’s Center)
April 22, 2004 – Induction Ceremony, Omicron Delta Epsilon (Economics Honor Society)
April 24, 2004 – Economics Department Student Conference
April Meeting of the Trailblazers (A student group housed in the Political Science Department, whose main interest is International Affairs)