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Class Structure and Social Mobility in Japan and Industrial Nations

20.09.2000 | 18.30

Ishida Hiroshi (Professor, The University of Tokyo)


How many sons of farmers actually became professionals in Japan? How many sons of managers became non-skilled workers? How does the working class in Japan differ from the same class in other industrial countries?

This presentation examines intergenerational class mobility in post-war Japan using cross-national comparisons with Western nations. Japanese society experienced dramatic changes in its class structure both among son's and father's generations during the post-war period. Late but rapid industrialization in Japan influenced not only class structure but also absolute mobility patterns which differed markedly from those of Western nations. In particular, the Japanese working class stands out in its low level of both intergenerational stability and intergenerational self-recruitment. However, when we focus on relative mobility rates – relative chances of mobility among people from different class origins, cross-national comparisons highlight the similarity in relative mobility patterns between Japan and Western nations. Therefore, it is the combination of distinctive absolute mobility rates and similar relative mobility rates that characterizes the Japanese mobility pattern in comparison with the Western experience.

Ishida Hiroshi is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Social Science, The University of Tōkyō. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University and held appointments at the University of Oxford and Columbia University. He specializes in comparative sociology and studies on social inequality and education and is the author of Social Mobility in Contemporary Japan (Macmillan, 1993) and co-editor of Schools, Public Employment Offices, and the Labor Market in Postwar Japan (in Japanese, University of Tōkyō Press, 2000).

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