A recent poll has found that 40 percent of both men and women in their 20s to 40s believe husbands should work full time while their wives stay at home. The poll, taken by Meiji Yasuda Institute of Life and Wellness, is a startling challenge to the push by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to increase the number of women in the Japanese workplace.
What’s more, 65 percent of male and 71 percent of female respondents said women should concentrate on parenting while their children are very young.
This traditional view of gender roles is becoming increasingly outdated despite its persistence. The poll did not make clear whether the respondents were thinking of the current situation, where parents have trouble finding affordable and convenient child care, or whether they were thinking of some improved situation in the ideal future.
The polls clearly reveal how ingrained concepts of male and female roles are in Japan. However, the poll also reveals the degree to which economic and social conditions lock traditional ideas in place. When there is no possibility of change, old ideas persist.
Actual conditions often have to change first before social attitudes and opinions can open toward new realities. In Japan, it seems, those conditions are beginning to change, slowly but steadily.
A recent report from the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) reported that 60 percent of leading companies have set targets for promoting female workers to management, as an important part of achieving sustainable growth. Business leaders seem to realize the importance of women working, even if a large percentage of average workers do not.
The central government ministries, too, have worked toward hiring a larger percentage of women to revitalize the economy and the bureaucracy. The hiring has not yet reached parity, but has been improving year on year.
The current Abe administration is also considering a bill to promote women to senior positions in the public and private sector.
After these changes are given time to take hold in the daily experience of workers, it is likely that ideas of what is best for men and women will also change.
The Japanese mindset in difficult times tends toward making personal attitudes fit given social conditions. With the tough economic situation for many people, the traditional attitude toward men’s and women’s roles must seem safe and comforting, and so continues.
But as conditions change — when women have access to child care so they can keep working, when more women are in senior positions in business and government, and when working conditions become flexible and supportive enough for both parents to help raise children and stay working — the Meiji Yasuda poll, in some future year, will find very different results.