Work and Lifecourse in Japan

By Samuel Coleman; Theodore F. Cook Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Careers and Mobility in Japan's Labor Markets

SOLOMON B. LEVINE

Since the end of World War II there have been enormous changes in the level and structure of the Japanese economy, plus a remarkable elongation in life expectancy; and the result is that great new opportunities have emerged for changing one's incomeproducing career. In this chapter, after a brief sketch of prewar trends, I offer an overview of the aggregate evidence for changes in jobs, occupations, and employment status since the later 1940's, the period during which the majority of people in the Japanese labor force today developed their careers of paid employment. My focus is upon labor mobility, or, in the lingo of the economist, on the interplay of supply and demand in labor market behavior. In the context of the labor market I look at income-producing careers as the succession of individuals from one paid job, occupation, or employment status to another.

A few considerations need to be kept in mind when using labor market data. These are, after all, macro-level data; they do not allow us to probe very far into people's motivations or reasons for changing jobs. The key notion here is opportunity cost: the relative advantage, as measured in monetary terms, that induces the workexperienced individual to move from one job to another. It is clear from the history of most industrialized countries that only a small fraction of the employed will be induced to move to another job in any limited time period, say a month or a year. Such movement fundamentally depends on changes in the demand for and supply of workers; these changes are highly complex matters involving economic, political, technological, and social events and changes. It

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