Equal Education - Unequal Lives: Life Course Goals of Japanese Female Undergraduates

Judith Lynn Misko

PhD Thesis. 2001

Japanese women overwhelmingly feel that the educational experiences are gender equal. Entrance to high school and university is through an exam which is ostensibly gender blind. The women in this study, in their minds, have equal access to higher education. However this equal access to education has not led to equity for these women in other areas of Japanese society, especially the workplace.

Women at three universities, a prestigious coeducational university, a women's university, and a coeducational science and medicine specialty university, were interviewed and surveyed over the course of eighteen months in order to elicit their views on education, equity, and future life-course goals.

The majority of women students look for challenging, rewarding, life-long careers. Many also intend to marry and have children. Combining this with a family does not vary significantly among the universities studied.

The universities vary in the strategies used by the women to achieve their goals. The coeducational university women count on their school's famous name to find careers, which they hope to keep even after having a family. The women's university students select careers such as teaching which are open to women with liberal arts degrees and allow them to combine career and family. The specialty university women chose majors that give them skills in professions where trained people are in demand. With such skills, they can stop working temporarily to have a family, and return to their career. Without such specialties women are disadvantaged in seeking a career.

The women overwhelmingly rated education as equal, but the workplace as biased toward males. They believe they have achieved equal education, but are unable to translate this into equal access to a career. Other aspects of the educational system do promote inequity, compromising the equity fostered by the gender blind entrance examination.

The current Japanese economy lacks any impetus to hire more female employees in career positions. The women themselves both lack a consciousness of this discrimination as a group problem and have no mechanism to fight it. Clearly egalitarian access to education is insufficient to promote equal access in other areas of society.