Spotlight on Japan: Growing Economies Through Gender Parity

Initially, the country’s female labor force participation rate continued to lag behind that of peer nations, including other Group of Seven nations, and critics expressed skepticism that top-down political reforms would have a lasting benefit. By 2016, female labor force participation had risen to 66 percent, surpassing that of the United States . In the 1990s, Japan’s female labor force participation rate was among the lowest in the developed world. In 2013, recognizing the power of women’s economic participation to mitigate demographic challenges that threatened the Japanese economy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed to adopt so-called womenomics as a core pillar of the nation’s growth strategy.

  • Although Japanese women now participate in the labor force at a higher rate, their labor market experiences are often less rewarding than those of their American counterparts.
  • These inequalities affect many aspects of individuals who do not identify with heterosexual marriage norms including social and legal discrimination in the work place, education, healthcare, and housing, with the legal discrimination stemming from the Koseki.
  • They continued to have nearly total responsibility for home and children and often justified their employment as an extension of their responsibilities for the care of their families.

Japan’s family dynamics have historically been defined by a two-person, female housewife or caregiver role and a male income-earner role, a historically common division of labor between the sexes. After Japan’s involvement in World War II ended, the resulting Japanese Constitution included Article 24, «the Gender Equality Clause,» which was introduced to steer the country towards gender equality. However, deeply-embedded family and gender norms led to resistance among citizens, and the culture remained largely the same as of 2009.

In the 1950s, most women employees were young and single; 62 percent of the female labor force in 1960 had never been married. In 1987 about 66 percent of the female labor force was married, and only 23 percent was made up women who had never married. Some women continued working after marriage, most often in professional and government jobs, but their numbers were small. More commonly, women left paid labor after marriage, then returned after their youngest children were in school. These middle-age recruits generally took low-paying, part-time service or factory jobs. They continued to have nearly total responsibility for home and children and often justified their employment as an extension of their responsibilities for the care of their families.

Role of Women in Japan

The growing pressures to appoint female directors have created an opportunity for Ms. Koshi’s firm. Japanese women face some of the starkest inequality in the developed world. Instead, it called for companies to renew their efforts to achieve the 30 percent goal by the end of the decade, in line with the government’s plan.

After the war, women continued to prove that they wouldn’t regress to old ways of gender discrimination and that they wanted to be trailblazers for future Japanese women. Women were empowered by their newly discovered potential for equality and continued to sustain their prominence. That’s a major issue in Japan, where the birth rate is falling, the population is aging, and many young people are in precarious, low-paid jobs. Less than 3 percent of children were born out of wedlock in 2020, and the decision to marry still largely depends on the man’s ability to provide, though attitudes are starting to change. These developments provide a clear opening for businesses to support STEM education for young women.

Despite constant discrimination, modern Japan continues to push forward with support from the EEOL (and other equality laws like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women ) toward safer and better-paying jobs for women. In 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe placed five women into political roles within his cabinet. Of these, only three kept their positions due to scandals related to workplace sexism. Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. After World War II, the legal position of women was redefined by the occupation authorities, who included an equal rights clause in the 1947 Constitution and the revised Civil Code of 1948. Women as well as men were guaranteed the right to choose spouses and occupations, to inherit and own property in their own names, to initiate divorce, and to retain custody of their children.

Perhaps surprisingly, standard demographic factors like aging and educational attainment appear to play very limited roles in accounting for these trends. N THE ECONOMIST’s 2022 glass-ceiling index, an annual measure of the role and influence of women in the workforce in 29 countries, only South Korea scored lower than Japan. The World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, which also factors in political representation, ranked Japan 116th out of 146 countries. That would have been little surprise to Japanese women, who are used to living in a strict patriarchal society.

The center-left Constitutional Democratic Party , the main opposition party, had 18.3 percent women. The Communist Party did better with 35.4 percent, and the Social Democratic Party had 60 percent, though only nine candidates in total. Lady Murasaki, the author, illustrates the use of women for political advancement through marriage throughout the plot line.

During the 21st century, Japanese women are working in higher proportions than the United States’s working female population. Income levels between men and women in Japan are not equal; the average Japanese woman earns 40 percent less than the average man, and a tenth of management positions are held by women. Given the dominance of men in Japanese politics, female politicians often face gender-based discrimination and harassment in Japan. They experience harassment from the public, both through social media and in-person interactions, and from their male colleagues. A 2021 survey revealed that 56.7% of 1,247 female local assembly members had been sexually harassed by voters or other politicians. Even though the 1997 revision of the EEOL criminalized sexual harassment in the workplace, female politicians in Japan often do not have the same support when they are harassed by male colleagues. The LDP has been reluctant to implement measures to counter harassment within the party and to promote gender equality more generally.

Right to divorce

But company bosses circumvented the legislation by inventing a two-track system with “career employees” , who could qualify for promotion, and “non-career employees” , who could not. Women had to choose their track when they were hired, but opting to be a “career employee” meant accepting long work hours and frequent relocation to provincial offices, like their male colleagues, making it hard to balance work and family life. For this calculation, we assumed that the additional labor force participants would have annual earnings equal to the mean annual earnings of prime-age female labor force participants in 2016. We further assumed that GDP increases proportionally with workers’ annual earnings, i.e., a doubling of aggregate earnings would induce a doubling of GDP. Even if the additional workers were lower on the earning spectrum, i.e. if doubling earnings did not fully double GDP, the increase in GDP would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

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The evolution of Japanese society has caused women to acclimatize to new customs and responsibilities. Various waves of change introduced new philosophies that guided Japanese lifestyles. Women were instilled with values of restraint, respect, organization, decorum, chastity, and modesty. Samurai feudalism gave little independence to women, and many were forced into prostitution. Some women served as samurai, a role in which they were expected to be loyal and avenge the enemies of their owners. Others, such as aristocratic women, were used for political alliances and reserved as pawns for family investment.

On the Inconvenience of Other People

Labor force participation can respond to deliberate policy choices in addition to demographic and economic trends. For example, changes in educational investments or retirement rules can affect the labor market experiences of the youngest and oldest workers. For prime-age workers, and particularly for prime-age women, a range of workforce and child-care policies can support labor force participation. However, only 0.2 percentage points of the increase in prime-age Japanese women’s participation can be ascribed to shifts in educational attainment, despite their 11 percentage point increase in attainment of four-year degrees from 2000 to 2016.