Movement behind the Scenes: The Quiet Transformation of Status Identification in Japan

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Since the economic boom of the 1970s, Japan was generally discussed as a mass middle-class society. This image was based less on objective status indicators and more on the fact that over 90% of Japanese self-identify as middle class. Even with an increase in income inequality and the onset of the discourse on Japan as a gap society since the mid-2000s, the distribution of self-identification has hardly changed. However, this does not mean that the objective shifts in Japan's social structure have gone unnoticed by the population. The way objective changes have impacted evaluations of individual social status is simply more subtle: what has changed is not the distribution of how people self-identify, but rather the way their objective social status (measured via education, occupation and income) impacts their self-evaluation. Added up, the share of the population that places itself in the middle has not remarkably changed. But, whereas there was no clear concept of what it meant to be upper or lower middle in the mid-1980s, resulting in rather arbitrary self-placement, there now seems to be more awareness of distinctions also within the middle. As a result, self-placement has become more closely connected to objective social status, with people with relatively higher incomes, level of education or occupational status being more likely to place themselves in the upper middle, and people whose objective social status is relatively lower being more likely to place themselves in the lower middle. To show this 'quiet transformation of status identification', we use data from the Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM) and Stratification and Social Psychology (SSP) survey series, covering the three decades from 1985 to 2015. Running OLS-regression models, we compare the impact of objective social status on status identification across time. Our results show that this relationship has become stronger, implying that today Japanese people have a more realistic understanding of their social status.




Hommerich, C., & Kikkawa, T. (2019, March 9). Movement behind the Scenes: The Quiet Transformation of Status Identification in Japan. Social Science Japan Journal. Oxford University Press.

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