Surprisingly few women students attend Japan’s top university. At the University of Tokyo (often referred to in Japan as Todai for short) only 1 in 5 students are women. This gender imbalance represents a real national problem, and potentially a serious impediment both to the Japanese government’s recent efforts to increase the share of women in leadership/executive positions and to broader efforts aimed at addressing long-standing gender inequities throughout the country.

Even though this is a serious problem, there is little research on why Todai has so few women students. Anecdotally, it seems that families often steer their daughters away from prestigious schools, claiming that it’s a waste of time for women to work so hard or that the professional world is the province of men. Arguments like this probably deter some women from applying.

A recent survey that we conducted, though, suggests an additional reason for the low women attendance rates at Todai. We fielded a survey with a national sample of 2,389 Japanese residents in February. In one part of the survey, we asked men and women to tell us how much they agreed with a set of statements on gender issues. Respondents could indicate that they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with each claim.