Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Working Japanese Moms

Apologies for the recent update drought. Joe's currently out visiting the Motherland, and Yoshie's in Kansai for a couple weeks, so I've been a bit busy preparing for her arrival and spending some time with her since she got in Sunday evening.

I noticed this recent survey over at What Japan Thinks (原因), asking mainly about the support that working mothers receive both at work and at home from their husbands. As you may already know, I have somewhat of an interest in the marital/breeding habits of the Japanese and their foreseeable social and economic consequences. Notably, I was a little surprised on two points.

First, that while 81% of women cited their reason for working as "To support the family budget for food, daily expenses, etc," only 33.3% chose "To advance my career, because I want to work." Perhaps the Japanese women I know aren't a legitimate statistical sampling, but I think many (or even most) of my younger female peers seem primarily driven right now by their careers. Thinking about it further, however, this statistic begins to make more sense. While I didn't see any percentage breakdown by age group of those surveyed, it may be safe to assume that 33.3% represents a majority of the younger women polled. Also, it's also extremely likely that those women who place a high priority on advancing their career either aren't married or don't have children.

Second, I was also surprised that a majority of working mothers surveyed are satisfied (at least to some degree) with the support/cooperation they receive from their husbands, considering how notorious Japanese men are for spending all day and night at the office and never seeing their families. Then again "support" and "cooperation", 「育児スサポート」and 「協力」 are vague terms in my mind. If I'm interpreting the Japanese data correctly, it looks like mothers from higher income households tended to be more satisfied with their husbands, so perhaps financial support as opposed to physically helping out with the kids is the key bit of information here.

I think it's important to understand and address the concerns of young Japanese women regarding motherhood. It seems to be a common conception (and of course not unique to Japan) that when women have children, their working lives are effectively over. I can see how that could be the case in many instances - after all, carrying a child to term takes a lot of time and energy, as does taking care of said child. I'm not of the mindset that women need to stay home with the children, though, although I don't see that social pattern changing here any time soon. When I was young, both my parents worked. For a while my sister and I had babysitters, and at times my parents would arrange their work schedules so that one of them would be home with us while the other was working. Then when my dad's health went into decline, he retired and stayed home with us while my mom worked during the day.

I'm not sure if many Japanese women don't want to have children (at a younger age, anyway) these days because of work concerns or just because they aren't that interested in having a family, but as the prior is more easily addressed, I hope it's something that will change in the coming years. While I think full-time child-rearing is a worthwhile calling for either a mother or a father, I can understand why many women would balk at the idea of having children if it means permanently passing up the chance at a meaningful career.

Raising a family isn't for everyone, but any society that boasts gender equality should encourage women to pursue both career and family if that's what they want.





  1. I've heard from some older Japanese women, that there's a big problem in Japan: women are completely uninterested in kids, up until their late thirties/early forties, and then suddenly they want kids and end up spending millions of yen on various treatments to try and get pregnant, and of course even if they succeed, it's absolutely devastating to their unyouthful bodies...

    I suspect the career seems a lot more interesting when you're young and "immortal". When that wall starts looming in front of you, you realize, you won't be able to work forever, and once you stop they'll replace you without a 2nd thought... That career you take so seriously? To the company you're just a replaceable cog...

  2. Yeah, I suppose that's an unfortunate bi-product of the liberalization of society. I'm not saying all women should be having babies...parenthood isn't for everyone...but it is a problem when a society can't sustain the necessary replacement rate. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but there's going to b a real problem in this country in 40 or 50 years when there are too many retirees and not enough workers to support them.