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Traits of a Leader

Japan's Generation Z: a Gender-neutral Japan?

Atsushi Miura asked:

In 2007 I was commissioned by Standard Advertising to conduct a nation-wide survey of young Japanese between the ages of 15 and 22; the members of Japan’s Generation Z. No result surprised me more than the evidence of radical changes in the genders’ attitudes.

When I was in elementary, junior high and high school (that was more than 30 years ago), boys and girls were clearly different in both behavior and values. Girls were expected to be pure and clean and more clever with their hands. Their writing was neater and their speech was more polite. Their desks and rooms were neater. They were also expected to be more punctual. And, at least to some extent, all of these expectations were met.

I was surprised, then, when I looked at the results of our Internet survey and, particularly, at the answers of high school students to the question, “Which of the following descriptions apply to you?” The following are items on which the girls scored at least 50% higher than the boys, in some cases over twice as high.

The top 15 are “tough” “rough,” “rough and ready,” “self-centered,” “tenacious,” “good taste,” “emotional,” “interesting,” “irritable,” “lazy,” “sloppy,” “narcissistic,” “hot tempered,” “bright,” “cheerful,” and “self-assertive.” Of these, “rough,” “sloppy,” “rough and ready,” “tough,” “irritable,” and “self-assertive” are all descriptions that used to apply to boys or how boys were expected to be. They were at least traits for which boys could be forgiven. For all these items, however, the scores for girls are now 20%-40% higher.

“Lazy,” “self-centered,” “my pace,” and “interesting” were not specifically masculine. But boys could get away with them, while girls would be criticized. Here again, however, we find more girls than boys applying these descriptions to themselves.

To check if these trends are Generation Z-specific, I went back to a previous survey of changes in female class consciousness that was conducted in 2005. There I found that among women aged 18-37, the younger they were, the more likely they were to describe themselves as “averse to taking pains,” “stubborn,” “self-centered,” “lazy,” “sloppy,” “clumsy,” and “tough.” So, it does appear to be true, the younger women are, the more likely they are to describe themselves in terms formerly applied to men.

That still left me wondering however, if traits like “rough” and “sloppy” weren’t confined to lower-class women. Surely the results would be different for women who perceive themselves as upper class. In the 2005 survey, that was indeed the case. Among women aged 28 to 32, none who described themselves as upper class applied these descriptions to themselves. In contrast, 23.3% of those describing themselves as lower class also applied these descriptions to themselves. The corresponding figures for those aged 23-27 were 3.2% for upper and 22.4% for lower class women.

In the Generation Z survey, however, these differences disappeared. There was no significant difference between self-identified upper and lower class women in their willingness to describe themselves as “rough” or “sloppy.” What seemed just a few years below to be a lower class trend is universal in Generation Z.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Generation Z women lack class consciousness. We do see substantial gaps depending on levels of education in such items as “proactive,” “like things clean and tidy,” “able to get things done,” “independent,” “businesslike” and “wanting to be a leader.”

Women who like to study are also more likely than those who don’t to describe themselves as “careful planners,” “proactive,” “rational,” “able to get things done,” “independent,” “decisive,” and “strong-willed.”

At the same time, however, more highly educated women who also like to study are more likely to combine these traits with “high class,” “good taste,” and “polite,” all traits traditionally associated with women. So, by combining these traditional feminine virtues with what has been seen in the past as masculine leadership traits, these women are likely to outperform their male competitors.

What this data shows us is that, with the spread of gender-neutral education, some women are combining masculine abilities with feminine qualities in a recipe for success. Meanwhile, others are falling behind on both of these dimensions. This polarization is the deeper reality behind the stereotype that “gender neutral” means greater equality for all women.

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