Gendered Trajectories: Women, Work, and Social Change in Japan and Taiwan

Gendered Trajectories: Women, Work, and Social Change in Japan and Taiwan

Gendered Trajectories: Women, Work, and Social Change in Japan and Taiwan

Gendered Trajectories: Women, Work, and Social Change in Japan and Taiwan


Gendered Trajectories explores why industrial societies vary in the pace at which they reduce gender inequality and compares changes in women's employment opportunities in Japan and Taiwan over the last half-century. Japan has undergone much less improvement in women's economic status than Taiwan, despite its more advanced economy and greater welfare provisions. The difference is particularly puzzling because the two countries share many institutional practices and values.

Drawing on historical trends, survey statistics, and personal interviews with people in both countries, Yu shows how country-specific organizational arrangements and industrial policies affect women's employment. In particular, the conditions faced by Japanese and Taiwanese women in the workplace have a profound effect on their labor force participation at critical points in their lives. Women's lifetime employment decisions in turn shape the divergent trajectories in gender equality.

Few studies documenting the development of women's economic lives are based on non-Western societies and even fewer adopt a comparative perspective. This perceptive work demonstrates and underscores the importance of understanding gender inequality as a long-term, dynamic social process.


The past century has witnessed dramatic changes in women's work outside the home across a wide range of societies. Despite its initial negative effect on female labor force participation, industrialization has nearly universally increased women's involvement in nonagricultural work over the long run (Goldin 1995; Pampel and Tanaka 1986). This overall impact of industrialization, however, has not led to an equivalent degree of improvement in women's socioeconomic status in all countries. There remain significant differences in the gender wage gap, women's employment rates and trajectories, as well as gender distributions across occupations and employment status among countries with similar levels of economic development (Charles and Grusky 2004; Rosenfeld and Birkelund 1995; Stier, Lewin-Epstein, and Braun 2001; Wright, Baxter, and Birkelund 1995). The discrepancy between economic development and gender inequality is well illustrated in the global ranking of gender gaps published by the World Economic Forum (Zahidi 2007). In 2006, less industrialized countries such as Tanzania, the Philippines, and Ghana outranked a few advanced economies (including Sweden, Norway, and Canada) in terms of women's economic opportunities relative to men's. The same report indicates that despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Japan ranked 79 among the 115 countries included with respect to the overall gender gap—far behind many low- and middleincome countries.

Why does women's economic status improve rapidly with industrialization in some countries but slowly in others? Answering this question requires a careful comparison of the evolution of women's employment opportunities as broader economic shifts take place in different countries. Previous research on the long-term development of the opportunity structure for women's gainful employment, however, has disproportionately focused on the U.S. context (e.g., Goldin 1990; Rosenfeld 1996; Thistle 2006). Knowledge of how macroeconomic changes shape the transformation of women's employment opportunities is particularly scarce outside of Western Europe . . .

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