Japan’s Working Moms

By Rashida Wallace

 The employment rate among Japanese women is currently at the lowest rate compared to other developed economies, including the United States. The reason being is that after the birth of a Japanese woman’s first child, two-thirds of these women leave the workforce for years, and some leave permanently. According to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the absence of mothers from the workplace is a mitigating factor contributing to Japan’s current troubled economic state.  

Beyond the women who choose to leave the workforce completely after giving birth, many women who do return to work after childbirth usually do so on a part time basis.  Since part-time workers earn lower wages, they obviously have less disposable income to spend and fewer taxes to pay.

In June, Prime Minister Abe introduced Japan’s National Growth Strategy to bolster Japan’s dwindling labor force and to get Japan out of its 20-year economic decline. Helping new mothers get back into the workforce in an integral part of that growth strategy. Although the government’s plan promotes maternity leave, it will also promote public childcare centers.  In fact, the government plans to open 250,000 daycare centers in the next few years for working women.

In addition, Abe has called on corporations to employ at least one female executive on board; and firms who do hire more women will receive financial incentives.

Japan’s gender wage gap is still high even after Japan’s 1987 Equal Employment Opportunity law. It seems as though women of Japan make up about three quarters of Japan’s non-regular (not fulltime) workers. Even full time female workers in Japan receive 27 percent less than their male counterparts even though on average in Japan, women have a higher level of education than Japanese men. Unfortunately, the gender wage gap reaches Japanese families, including children. With both parents in the home working, it is often difficult to make ends meet because the woman in the family gets paid less than they should be, therefore couples might just be depending on one income.

The potential damage to Japan’s economic state can be quite devastating if women do not re-enter the workforce in numbers soon,. Experts predict that Japan’s working age population may fall to about 55 million by the year 2050-compared to 87 million in 1995. If the employment rate of women becomes equal with that of men, Japan’s employment rate could increase by 8 million. This would improve household income, consumer spending and provide a much-needed boost, overall, to the nation’s economy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the first prime minister to include women’s labor as a part of a growth plan. Unlike past leaders, he recognizes that women are a vital part of Japan’s economy, as they are a large portion of Japan’s population.  In a speech last spring, Prime Minister Abe stated that “Women are Japan’s most underutilized source.”

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