Do Japanese parents generally hold high aspirations for their children’s education? Japan is a so-called “academic credentials society” (gakureki shakai). As in many other industrial countries, in Japan, academic attainment is thought to lead to more job opportunities and higher income (Kariya, 1995). However, Japan’s rate of college attendance has been low compared to other industrialized countries. For example, in 2016 the rate of four-year university enrollment among high school graduates including those who waited for a year (rōnin) was about 52% (57% including junior college). The entry rate into tertiary education in Japan (52% in 2012) was much lower than the OECD average (58%) and in other countries such as South Korea (69%) or United States (71%) (OECD, 2014). The rate of university enrollment including those who waited for a year (rōnin) in Japan has increased from 30% (43% including junior college) in 1994 to 40% in 2001, but has stayed between 50% and 52% since 2009 (MEXT, 2016).
The relatively low rate of university attendance seems to reflect Japanese parents’ overall low expectations regarding their children’s educational attainment. Several international studies have revealed that Japanese parents tend to hold lower expectations of their children’s education than parents in other countries. In one international survey, Japanese parents demonstrated lower educational expectations compared to parents in France, South Korea, Thailand, and the United States (National Women’s Education Center, 2007). While more than 70% of the parents in these countries aspired for a college education or beyond for their children, less than half (47%) of the Japanese parents did so. Japanese parents’ overall low aspirations for their children’s education might be partially explained by gender gaps in their expectations: Japanese parents tend to hold low educational expectations for their daughters as reported in previous CRN articles (Holloway, Yamamoto, & Suzuki, 2005; Yamamoto & Watanabe, 2016). The prolonged economic recession could also be a factor explaining Japanese parents’ relatively low educational expectations (Yamamoto, 2015).
In this paper, we examine Japanese mothers’ perceptions of happiness in relation to their expectations of their children’s education. LeVine and White (1986) argue that parents share universal goals even though they raise their children differently across cultures. Survival, economic self-reliance, and internalization of cultural values are major goals in child rearing. At the same time, in economically developed societies where a child’s survival is assured and children rarely contribute to family economics, children’s value is not economic but sentimental (Zelizer, 1985). In those societies, parents are likely to value a sense of well-being and happiness in addition to achievement in their children’s development and future.