Individualism as a Solution for Gender Equality in Japanese Society in Contrast to the Social Structure in the United States

By Dohi, Itsuko; Fooladi, Marjaneh M. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Individualism as a Solution for Gender Equality in Japanese Society in Contrast to the Social Structure in the United States


Dohi, Itsuko, Fooladi, Marjaneh M., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Is Japanese Society based on Collectivism or Individualism?

(Triandis 1995) defines collectivism as a social pattern consisting of closely linked individuals who see themselves as separate and yet collective part of a company, family, or nation. They are primarily motivated by the norms of, and duties imposed by those collectives. These individuals are willingly giving priority to the goals of collectives over their own personal goals and values. Their emphasis is on the connectedness to members of collectives. In contrast individualism is a social pattern that consists of loosely linked individuals who view themselves independent of collectives. Individualists are mainly motivated by their own preferences, needs, rights, and the contracts they have established with others and place a higher priority on their personal goals and values compared to the goals of others. The rationale for individualist's pattern of thinking is based on the analyses of advantages and disadvantages associated with concerns for self versus others (See Fig.1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

A majority of Western countries have an individualistic social structure and many Eastern countries are collectivist nations. Individualism-collectivism dimension is only one of the researched and proposed five cultural dimensions (Hofstede 1991) involving nearly 110 thousands IBM employees from 53 countries. Using variables such as values of labor, family and society Hofstede reached an overall degree of individualism-collectivism among the participating countries which showed the majority of industrial nations were individualistic societies. The industrial countries offered minimal merits to people as a group and more credit to individual accomplishments. Japan scored at a mid-point among other countries and Western countries had a high individualistic score. The United States received the highest score as the most individualistic society in the world (See Table1.)

Since the Meiji era the Japanese's individualistic score has been rising due to the increasing industrialization of Japan. Today, the Japanese society is at a crossroad of fast approaching industrialization while making an effort to maintain its agricultural social norms.

The Japanese society may be collectivistic and eager to identify and belong to groups but, pressure to conform and change is ever present. The term "Amae" (Doi 1973) refers to the Japanese individuals who take tradition, compliance and conformity to the life ways of their seniors for granted. These Japanese individuals seek to identify themselves by association with a particular social group. Today, forming small groups and living as a couple or nuclear family has become a preferred way of life Japan. According to (Ida 1995), a sociologist, Japan continues to be a marriage-forced and yet a couple-unit society. Both of Japanese wives and husbands have Amae each other. For instance, a Japanese wife may not appreciate economic support from her husbands and similarly, a Japanese husband may not recognize his wife's efforts in making the house a pleasant environment and attending to child care. The traditional idea of husband and wife forming a unit of two individuals has been devalued and vanishing.

Japanese collectivism and gender inequality

The Japanese social structure based on collectivism may have contributed to gender inequality in employment and decision making process. For instance, a married woman applies for a full-time job. But, because the collectivist structure features the couple-unit in a traditional wife-and-husband gender role defined as the husband or man is at work and wife or woman stays at home, the woman gets paid less than a man for a comparable job performance. This rationale excludes if all other possibilities such unemployed or disabled husband. The couple-unit perspective in a collectivist social structure leaved no regards or explanation for gender inequalities. …

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