A Comparative Study of Social Mobility of Middle Classes in Japan and Korea - CEAS Event Review

On Thursday, December 3rd from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, a lecture on social mobility of middle classes in East Asian societies was held on campus. Professor Yoshimichi Sato, a renowned professor at Tohoku University in Japan, conducted a research in 2005 to examine the impact of globalization on social mobility in Japan and Korea. Before he carried out the actual survey, his theoretical prediction was that all Japanese and Korean middle classes would have experienced increase in social mobility in recent years. However, his hypothesis came out to be incorrect.

In analyzing the data he had obtained from the two important surveys, social stratification and social mobility (SSM) surveys conducted respectively in Japan and Korea, Professor Sato discussed two types of social mobility, intergenerational and intragenerational. In contrast to what he had previously expected, many consequences of rapid globalization, such as prolonged recession of Japanese economy and Korea’s financial crisis during the late 1990s, did not increase fluidity among social classes in either Japan or Korea. In other words, direct heritage from parents decided to which social classes these people belonged, and people did not easily move to other classes when they changed their jobs.

However, one exception to this situation is Korean old middle class. According to statistical data that Professor Sato provided during his lecture, it seems that economic crisis had a large impact on these people, resulting in significant reduction of old middle class people. In terms of intergenerational mobility, the fathers, who had been the actual victims of the financial crisis, wanted their sons to live better lives by finding more highly paid jobs in other classes. In addition, Koreans tended to consider self-employment as very unattractive, so they preferred to get out of self-employment sector as soon as they get job offers from other companies.

Overall, it was an interesting lecture. Thank you Professor Sato for giving such an awesome presentation, and I am definitely looking forward to attending more CEAS lectures next semester!

- Minh Joo Yi (CAS '13)

Editor's Note: Dr. Yoshimichi Sato, Distinguished Professor and the Director of the Center for the Study of
Social Stratification and Inequality from Tohoku University (Japan) presented the lecture "A Comparative Study of Social Mobility of Middle Classes in Japan and Korea" as part of the CEAS Issues in Contemporary East Asia Lecture Series. The next lecture will be on Monday December 7th, when Professor Joseph Sung-Yul Park of the National University of Singapore will be presenting on a subject TBA.