“Moralism” and the Gender Gap: Judgments of Political Ethics in Japan



This article investigates whether women are, as many claim, “moralists”—that is, moral and ethical standard-setters who seek clean politics and have strict standards for public officials. An analysis of data from the 1996 Japanese Elections and Democracy Study survey and from 18 focus groups conducted in 1996 indicates that women in Japan are not moralists. As elsewhere, there is a gender gap in Japan on “issue preference sets,” with women favoring a “care” agenda, but women assign political ethics less importance than do men, even though women are more likely to see adverse effects from political corruption. Studying people's judgments of four ethics scenarios reveals minimal gender gaps; controlling for education and age, women's judgments overall are less, not more, strict than men's. Among women, age is a better predictor of moralism than education; older women are stricter than younger women on political ethics. This is attributed to gender-based differences in moral reasoning: Japanese women and men both rely heavily on a “relation-based” frame (which is situation-specific and requires extensive social information), but gender stratification patterns create information inequalities. Younger women lack social information necessary for judging political misconduct, whereas older women overcome the information deficit through life experience.