Is This Why Japanese Women Quit Work After Marriage?

Recently I caught this article posted on twitter by @hikosaemon, about a woman who was chewed out, and called irresponsible by her manager for getting pregnant in the first year of her job. (Note: the article is in Japanese).

It made me think about the conversations I’ve had with students about women in the workplace in Japan. One student even claimed that companies won’t hire older women, because older married women will more likely to be the ones who have to leave work to take care of the kids if they get a call from the school or something.

I’d known about this situation, but there’s a particular conversation with one of my students that really hit home, and made me feel uncomfortable, even sad. She was telling me about her amazing, “dream job” as the editor of a magazine. The way she glowed when she talked about it, I could tell she really loved it.

“It was really busy, but so much fun.”

“Really? Why did you leave?”

“When I got married, I decided the hours were too…eeto…”

“Long? Irregular?”

“Yes! I needed a more…fixed job. Fixed hour job. Otherwise it would be difficult…”

Now, everyone has the right to live their own life, and to make their own choices, but I did wonder what exactly she meant. Doing housework? Cooking? Surely her husband, a grown adult male, could help out with some of that? Having children? Alright, many women even in the West choose to make the sacrifice to care for their children. My mother did it. But my student didn’t have any children at the time of the conversation. Perhaps she just wanted to have more time to spend with her husband, or perhaps she wanted to avoid being “irresponsible” by getting pregnant.

When I put that conversation in the context of the article above, I can’t help the hairs on the back of my neck rising in apprehension. As I said, everyone has the right to make their own choices, and what if the choice wasn?t hers?

I feel there is a societal expectation for women here to “have their little jobs” while they’re young and unattached, but once they get married it’s time to settle down and become a “good wife”. Now, this attitude is by no means exclusive to Japan, but there is something about the contrast of Japan’s high rises, sleek bullet trains and robots and this attitude that we in the West associate with the 1950s that makes it all the more glaring to me.

Also I thought about myself in my student’s situation. How I would feel if I had to choose between my dream job and my dream man? Or my dream to have a child? I didn’t like the thought at all. Granted, she’s grown up with this expectation, but by her own admission it wasn’t easy to leave her job. She’s still working now, part-time, in the service industry.

However I did read another article here (don’t worry, this one’s in English) about how the East and West view marriage. The gist is that in the West people marry for love and in the East people marry for children. Though overall I find the article generalizes too much, this is an interesting point, and a plausible explanation for why women in Japan feel the need to leave their jobs after marriage. But it’s not like women in the West aren’t popping out their share of rugrats. And the average number of children in a family is actually falling according to the Asahi Shimbun (newspaper). So, what’s up with that?

Personally, I don’t think my student should have quit her dream job, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been pressured by the company after her marriage. Situations like this really make me value the freedom — the free state of mind that gives me the feeling (delusion?) that I can do whatever I want — that my upbringing has fostered.

Should my student have given up her job? What do you think?

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29 Responses to Is This Why Japanese Women Quit Work After Marriage?

  1. Pat says:

    When my wife came to the states, she was blown away by how many working women with children in high places there were. While not 100% equal she was amazed that there was room for advancement in a career at all after children. When I said my boss has two kids, and she had been promoted recently, she was incredulous. It also gave her hope that she could also work at her dream after we have kids (we’re married now). I fully encourage her to do so, and said that if I had to work from home to look after the kids, I’m sure I could arrange something at work.

    I think that if Japan is going to solve its low birthrate problem, corporations and the culture have to change and provide child care services, maternal leave, etc. That or open up their immigration to truly let people in, but I doubt that will ever happen.

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