JILPT Research Report No.199
Disparities in career decisions and perceptions among young people in major urban areas:
Based on the 4th Survey on the Working Style of Young People

October 20, 2017


Research Objective

The objective of this report is to clarify how young people’s school-to-work transitions and perceptions of employment have changed over the past 15 years, based on data from four editions of the Survey on the Working Style of Young People.

The first Survey on the Working Style of Young People was conducted with the aim of assessing changes in young people’s career decisions and perceptions amid a rise in the number of young people called “freeters” (young people in atypical employment), as young workers increasingly changed jobs and led less stable careers starting in the latter half of the 1990s. Since then the survey has been conducted every five years, and this report organizes data from the 4th Survey on the Working Style of Young People primarily through comparison with past surveys.

Research Method

Using random sampling based on the Basic Resident Register, 8,000 people in the Tokyo metropolitan region (aged 25 to 34) were selected and asked, by post, to complete a survey between August and October 2016. The survey was designed so responses could be sent via the internet or smartphone as well. There were 2,440 mailed and 552 online questionnaire responses, made a total of 2,992 (response rate 37.4%).

Main Findings

Over the past 15 years young people have experienced dramatic economic ups and downs, with a prolonged recession followed by a mid-2000s economic expansion that exceeded the so-called Izanagi boom of the late 1960s in length, and then by the global financial crisis. On the other hand, this was a period when general levels of education rose significantly nationwide, especially in the Tokyo metropolitan region.

  1. On the whole, youth employment has moved in a positive direction over the past 15 years, but the extent of improvement varies considerably depending on attributes of each person. Among men, regular employees have increased as a percentage of the total, but the disparity between high school graduates and those with higher educational levels has grown, as the decline in those in “continuously atypical” (i.e. “retained atypical jobs”) or who “changed from regular to atypical employment” was particularly marked among university or graduate school graduates. For women with only a high school education, “continuously atypical” has been the largest category since 2006. On the other hand, the percentage who “changed from regular to atypical employment” or in “continuously atypical” employment fell half among women with a university or graduate school education, to the extent that disparities in the rate of regular employment by academic background increased more than among men. The above findings indicate that disparities based on educational background have widened over the past 15 years, especially for women.

    Figure 1. Change in career composition over time by gender, age group, and academic background
    (figure shows only age 25-29 and high school vs. university graduates)

    Figure 1

    Click to expand

  2. We compared reasons for leaving jobs among employees in their late 20s who left jobs after being hired as new graduates, on the first (2001) and the fourth survey (2016). Among men, on the first survey the most common response was “The job did not suit me or was boring,” but on the fourth survey this response had fallen to fourth place and the most common response was “Long working hours (including overtime).” There was a change in women’s responses as well. On the first survey “Health, home circumstances, marriage or childbirth” ranked first and “The job did not suit me or was boring” second, but on the second survey the most common responses were “Long working hours (including overtime)” and “Health, family circumstances, marriage or childbirth.”
  3. We examined changes in perceptions of employment among young people over the 2001-2016 period, focusing on the themes of “sympathies with freeters,” “ambitions for vocational improvement,” “success-oriented view,” and “avoidance of or doubts about working.” Over these 15 years “empathy with freeters” declined regardless of whether respondents had experience as freeters themselves. Meanwhile, in response to a question about on-the-job “strengths,” many cited “Skills or qualifications.”
  4. In 2001 high school graduates made up 40% of freeters, but in 2016, university graduates made up 40%. In terms of reasons for becoming a freeter, we had been tracking three categories (“dream pursuer” “moratorium” [i.e. those in an intermediate exploratory stage of development], and “inevitable freeter”), but with the general rise in educational levels it was determined that three categories were not sufficient, and a fourth was added, the “step-up category” (those who responded that they had become freeters for a time to complete the study, preparation or training necessary for the jobs they wanted to do.) Comparison of respondents in each category by academic background found that university graduates or higher accounted for the largest group among the “step-up category.” Furthermore, looking back at the third survey (2011), it is clear that the “step-up category” is gradually increasing (Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Distribution of freeters (4 categories)
    Figure 2

    There has been little improvement in terms of those leaving freeter employment to become regular employees, and the disparity between men and women grew in this regard. The employment environment for new graduates has improved on the whole, and it is presumed that there has been little improvement because the percentage of those finding it easy to shift from atypical to regular employment is lower than during the recession period.
  5. We divided the Tokyo metropolitan region into the special areas in and around the city center, the peripheral special areas, and the Tama area, and examined working styles and perceptions by area, finding major differences. In terms of perceptions, in the center area a high percentage of respondents sought to start their own businesses or aspired to attain fame, while in the Tama area there was a notably high rate of respondents aiming for stable long-term employment. The percentage of regular employees is high in both the city center and surrounding peripheral special areas, and in the center city area the percentage of men with a university degree or higher is over 80%.

Policy Implications

  1. Even if young people’s employment situation is highly positive, their circumstances when they complete their education have a major impact on their future careers. It is growing more important to monitor, and implement measures to benefit, youth demographics not tracked by schools or the Hello Work (the Public Employment Security Office).
  2. With regard to people who return to school for further education at a young age, there are particularly strong needs among young people aiming to shift from atypical to regular employment, and expansion of efforts is required.
  3. There are differences among the career decisions and perceptions of young people even within Tokyo, and labor administrators should respond by implementing more closely tailored measures.
  4. Drastic changes in the careers of young women should be incorporated into the content of career training.
  5. With rising educational levels among “freeters,” the demographic has come to include those aspiring to jobs where it is difficult to become a regular employee at a young age. There is a need for support during their periods of unstable employment, which should include training to build vocational skills.

Policy Contribution

This study contributes to understanding of youth employment.

Main Text (only available in Japanese)

Research Categories

Project Research: “Research on vocational skill development that accommodates diverse needs”

Subtheme: “Research on smooth transition from school to work/employment and career formation of youth”

Research Period



Yukie HORI
Senior Researcher, Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training
Kenji TANI
Associate Professor, Social Studies Education Course,
Faculty of Education Saitama University
Senior Fellow, Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training
Megumi OGURO
Research Assistant, Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training


JILPT Research Report > Category Index >  Employment / UnemploymentHuman resources management / Vocational skills development

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