The Japanese public supports women’s advancement in society, finds the Stanford Japan Barometer, a survey platform launched by the Japan Program at Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC). This result is somewhat surprising, considering Japan’s poor showing in global gender equality rankings.
Led by Professor of Sociology Kiyoteru Tsutsui, the Henri H. and Tomoye Takahashi Professor and director of the Japan Program at APARC, and Charles Crabtree, an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College and a former visiting assistant professor with the Japan Program, the Stanford Japan Barometer (SJB) is a periodic public opinion survey on political, economic, and social issues concerning contemporary Japan with three main parts: (1) questions about respondents’ demographic background; (2) a stable set of questions about support for policy issues, political parties, public institutions, and international entities; and (3) a thematically focused set of questions and experimental studies on topics of great relevance at the time of the survey. The survey is conducted with a national, quota-based sample of 8,000 Japanese residents.
In the first installation of the survey, conducted in late November 2022, the SJB examined issues concerning gender and sexuality in Japan. It found, among other results, that most Japanese are in favor of recognizing same-sex unions and support a legal change to allow married couples to keep separate surnames. The SJB also examined questions related to women’s advancement in Japanese society, the focus of the following report.
One prominent gender equality issue that often recurs in Japanese public discourse is women’s under-representation in prominent positions, especially in politics and business. According to the latest Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum, Japan ranks 116th out of 146 countries in terms of gender equality. Japan fares well in the categories of Education and Health, but in Politics and Economy, it ranks 139th and 121st respectively. In another ranking on women’s role and influence in the workforce, the Glass-Ceiling Index compiled by The Economist, Japan ranks second-worst among the 29 developed countries surveyed. Japan barely avoided the lowest ranking (a dubious distinction taken by South Korea), but indeed ranks lowest in terms of the proportion of women in national parliaments (single or Lower House) among OECD countries, with only 10% of Lower House members being female.
To better understand this striking gender disparity, Tsutsui and Crabtree had respondents complete conjoint experiments that examined what types of candidates the Japanese public is more likely to support for a Diet seat and an external corporate board member. The results show, perhaps surprisingly, that Japanese people prefer women for these positions (52% to 48% for the Diet and 51% to 49% for corporate board). Women support female candidates more than men, but men also prefer female candidates over male ones, averaging across all other candidate characteristics such as education and occupational background. These differences are fairly stable across different ages, educational and family backgrounds, and political party support. Contrary to what gender representation in politics and corporate leadership would indicate, the SJB results suggest that there is robust support for women’s representation in those powerful positions across different spectrums of the Japanese public.
Tsutsui and Crabtree also asked a series of questions about views on gender roles and women’s advancement in Japanese society. Respondents were particularly supportive of more men taking parental leave and helping with childcare, registering 6.3 on a scale of 0-10 (5 being neutral and a number larger than 5 indicating support for the statement). They were not supportive of the statements about traditional gender roles, such as “Men should work outside the home and women should stay home” (3.8), or “Boys should be raised to be manly and girls should be raised to be womanly” (4.3). Interestingly, for all these questions, there is a statistically significant difference between male and female respondents, with men showing greater support for traditional gender roles, although the general trend is a shift away from traditional gender roles even among men.
On questions concerning women’s advancement in Japanese society, the Japanese public demonstrated strong support for the argument that more efforts should be made to increase the number of female politicians (5.8), executives (5.9), and board members (5.8). There is no substantial difference between men and women for these questions, indicating that the support for women’s advancement in politics and business is broadly shared across genders.
When it comes to using a quota to ensure women’s seats in the national Diet, management positions, and board rooms, the opinions are divided across the gender line, with women being significantly more supportive (5.1, 5.2, 5.2) than men (4.8, 4.7, 4.7). This likely indicates that men are threatened by the idea of quota as it would reduce the likelihood of their advancement toward these powerful positions.
Men’s resistance to quotas notwithstanding, overall, the Japanese public supports women’s advancement in society, perhaps recognizing the need for Japan to change in light of the embarrassing showing in global rankings of women’s empowerment. These results suggest that the slow pace of change in women’s advancement in Japan might be attributable to the behavior of gatekeepers, who are mostly older men who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds than the SJB’s average survey respondent, rather than to a lack of public support.
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APARC Associate Director for Communications and External Relations