Women break the traditional mould

October 25, 1996

Women now outnumber men at universities and junior colleges in Japan, according to the latest education ministry figures.

Some 48.3 per cent of female high-school graduates are taking courses in higher education compared to 44.2 per cent of their male counterparts. But men still dominate the top universities that are the stepping stone to fast-track careers with prestigious companies and the civil service.

Women account for more than 90 per cent of enrolments at the lower-status junior colleges. These offer traditional female career courses but also others in English literature, modern languages and general education for women destined to become dutiful wives and mothers.

But the number of female students enrolling for university courses is rising rapidly. They now account for 33 per cent of the students at universities, up from 23 per cent in 1985 and 12 per cent in 1955.

At top private universities such as Waseda University and Keio University in Tokyo more women are enrolling for male-dominated courses in law and business administration.

The passing of equal employment opportunities legislation in the mid-1980s has encouraged more women to seek career-oriented posts and to delay marriage. Unmarried women at the age of 25 were once likened to Kurisumasu keeki or Christmas cakes that no one wanted after December 25.

Yoshiko Saito, a Tokyo political science student, says: "Attitudes are changing. These days unmarried women are seizing the sort of opportunities that were once reserved for men."

In the past many families were unwilling to spend money on a university education for their daughters. Yet some Japanese women are still loathe to spend four years at university only to discover that employers are reluctant to hire them.

"The recession has encouraged some companies to avoid hiring women who might forfeit their careers for family duties," says Ms Saito.

Although undergraduate intakes are stabilising, the number of graduates taking up postgraduate courses is increasing sharply. 56,200 students are now studying for masters' degrees and 14,300 for doctorates. Here too the number of female students is increasing.

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