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In Session: Comparing Cultures of Education in Asia: Anthropological and Ethnographic Perspectives
1: Learning How Much Education Is Enough: Single Women, Family, and Opportunity in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Throughout much of East Asia, and especially in its urban centers, women’s levels of education have risen significantly, often exceeding that of men. Yet women are not achieving equivalent levels of success in the workplace. Why are women’s successes in education not leading to equivalent achievements at work? Are similar processes operating across East Asia, or do they differ in each society? Based on interviews with over 100 nevermarried women in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, the paper explores how single women and their families navigate competing expectations that young women achieve success in education and work while young, and at the same time, prepare to provide care services for family members through marriage as well as through other domestic arrangements. The paper argues that the ways in which single women and their families manage these competing expectations differ in the three cities under study, and that these differences are best understood as a product of the ways in which families in the three societies organize single women’s domestic labor. In Shanghai, young women attempt to achieve as much as they can in education and work in ways that do not endanger paths to marriage. In Hong Kong, single women and their families encourage women to obtain educational achievements as long as it does not involve a serious and lengthy disruption to women’s service to her natal and extended family. In Tokyo, families support women’s education through university but are skeptical about the benefits of education beyond university.