The Political Economy of Japan's Low Fertility

By Frances McCall Rosenbluth | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Privatized Education Market and
Maternal Employment in Japan

KEIKO HIRAO


Introduction

Japanese mothers face a great deal of pressure to be involved intensively in their children's education. Getting into top schools is so competitive,1 and the importance of an academic pedigree is so important for landing the best jobs, that Japanese families expend vast amounts of time and money herding their children through after-school “cram schools” (juku) in the private market. This burden falls most heavily on mothers in the traditional Japanese family, adding one more constraint on a woman's ability to supply her labor to the market. This task of looking after their children's education is likely to depress fertility because it exacerbates for women the difficulties of balancing family and career.

Many scholars have pointed out the prominence of private education services in Japan. Past studies that discuss Japanese education have usually dedicated some pages to the existence of such services and the functions they play (Hood 2001; Schoppa 1991; Simmons 1990; White 1987a; Wray 1999). The term juku, which is already listed in the American Heritage Dictionary, is circulated in English written and verbal communications as a word, though italicized, that requires little explanation among those who have some knowledge of Japan.

Approximately 60 percent of middle-school students and 30 percent of upper-grade elementary school children in Japan attend juku on regular bases (Ministry of Education 1994). The “excessive” enrollment in juku programs has been repeatedly criticized as dysfunctional for children's well-integrated development, and the majority of parents

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