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Approaches to Understanding Young People from New Social Consciousness Studies

World’s first social survey using tablet PCs

Professor Kikkawa’s specialty is quantitative research to clarify the consciousness and way of thinking of current members of Japanese society based on mathematical grounds by using carefully-designed social surveys and advanced analysis techniques. In the first SSP project conducted in 2015, 9,000 people aged 20 to 64 extracted from the voter lists or Basic Resident Registers obtained from municipal governments throughout Japan. For these people, he conducted door-to-door surveys by using researchers.

In this project, tablets were used instead of paper (questionnaire) and pencil, which had long been used for social research. In this door-to-door survey, a surveyor visits a respondent’s home and the respondent inputs his/her answers directly to the tablet provided while the respondent and surveyor are confirming questionnaires together. According to Professor Kikkawa, this was “the first attempt of its kind in the world.”

As for the reason why the survey tool was changed to a tablet, he said, “The response rate is very low because fewer people are at home. Also, they are concerned about providing their private information. Unlike the questionnaire method, if answers are input directly to a tablet device, there is no fear of the information being seen by others, providing better confidentiality. The data will also be easy to compile, analyze, and save.”

Survey design based on the population pyramid

Another major feature of this SSP survey is that its design focuses on young people. “In Japan, with its declining birthrate, there is a much smaller population of people in their 20s and 30s compared with the baby-boomer generation and second-generation baby-boomers, making it impossible to grasp trends from that group using conventional ways of designing survey projects.

In order to understand changes in social consciousness in Japan quickly and figure out what direction Japan will go in in the future, we devised a way to extract the voice of people born in the 80s, 90s, and beyond, now active members of society.”

One of the ideas was including new questions such as on disparity, gender, and education, which are of great interest to Japanese people today. In social surveys, it is important to be able to compare current data with data collected 10 or 20 years ago, so Prof. Kikkawa included an even balance of “fixed-point observation questions (general questions found in typical questionnaires), and questions related to current issues in Japanese society.”

Social surveys have been conducted using paper and pencil for the past 70 years. To prevent respondents from being negatively affected by digitization of the survey tools and recording methods, he took a lot of trial and error in designing hardware and software, such as tablet size and input screen layout. As a result, he confidently stated, “I was able to find some key words that showed where to dig to find various phenomena and social consciousness.”

Young men’s awareness of positive participation in child-rearing is unexpectedly high

What surprised Professor Kikkawa in particular was the result of analysis on “Ikumen (fathers actively engaged in raising their children) consciousness.” Japanese men spend very little time to engage in housework and childrearing, which is commonly considered as a factor that prevents women from more actively participating in society. However, “When analyzing the data, there were more men than women who felt that ‘Husbands should participate in housework and childrearing to the same extent as wives.’ While men want to have a job as well as participate in housework, the results showed that not as many young women have a strong desire for men to participate in housework and childrearing as is generally believed.

It is said that young women have become conservative and desire to be full-time housewives, but this consciousness is actually changing, and a big generation difference is clearly seen with women in their 40s and 50s.” In addition, feelings from young people such as ‘My work is not appreciated in the workplace’ and ‘I’m afraid of being overtaken by others,’ which had never been observed before, as well as impressionistic arguments reported by the media, were proven through statistical and numerical data.

These analysis results clearly reveal the true problems of today’s society at a time when generations that had been the core of Japan such as baby-boomers are retiring, providing valuable basic data that can be used for formulating future government policies, etc. “For example, now, it is thought that as men participate more in housework and childrearing, issues such as the declining birthrate, will be resolved, but is that really the case? On the basis of these results, conveying the people’s ‘standard way of thinking’ to the world in a way that is easy to understand on the grounds of our accurate numerical values and to link this to policy-making that resonates with the related parties is our mission.”

Developing a survey system that meets current needs

About future goals, Prof. Kikkawa stated, “I would like to develop a survey system that meets the current needs of young people responsible for the future, in order to continue accurate large-scale surveys as well. Simply making a new system is more easily done. I want to make gradual and careful improvements while maintaining the continuity of surveys every 10 years.”

He continued about his future ambitions, saying, “In addition to social surveys based on long-term perspectives such as SSP surveys, I want to study transitions in the mentality of the society in which we live from a short-term perspective, such as before and after an earthquake, and then present the results in a way that is easy to understand.”

In June 2016, Social Mentality in Contemporary Japan, which is an English translation of one of his independent works entitled Gendai Nippon no ‘Shakai no Kokoro’ - Keiryou Shakai Ishikiron / Yuhikaku, was published by the Osaka University Press, and is available worldwide. “I hope that analysis of changes in social consciousness in Japan will be useful for the future design of East Asian countries, which are continuing to evolve.”

Professor Kikkawa is always busy, but when he gets stuck while writing a paper, he plays tennis. With a broad smile on his sun-tanned face, he said, “I also serve as an advisor to the Tennis Club that I started when I was a student at Osaka University. Recently, I started running on the outer road of Expo ’70 Commemorative Park in order to maintain my physical strength, and I also participate in local marathons.”

Toru Kikkawa

A 1994 graduate of the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, Prof. Kikkawa became an Assistant at the School of Human Sciences at Osaka University in the same year. In 1995, he became a Lecturer at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shizuoka University, and an Assistant Professor at the same university the very next year. In 2000, he became an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, and after working as an Associate Professor, he took his current position as Professor in 2014. His field of research is quantitative social consciousness studies and social surveys.

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