Japan reaches top rank – in gender inequality

by Michelle Liebheit

As The Mainichi reported last month, Japan has been slipping down on the gender gap ranking for the last couple of years. This year it finally reached the lowest rank in gender equality within industrialized countries. We talked about this topic various times in class too, but most of our discussions were based on perception rather than data. I was therefore interested how gender equality in Japan is really doing and the data I found was still surprising.

First, the gender gap report shows some interesting numbers. Whereas the unemployment rate is very low for both genders in Japan (women 4%, men 5%), we see a huge difference in the type of employment. 35% of the female labour force works part-time. If we compare this to their male counterparts, of which only 10% are part-time employees, the difference is clearly visible.

Other major points for Japan’s bad performance are due to a lack of political empowerment (ranking 118 out of 135 in the subindex). In the current diet, only 8% of the parliament seats are hold by women. Moreover, Japan has had no female head of state since the establishment of a parliament in the late 19th century.

This numbers seem quite shocking, but actually Japan has established a very good basis for empowerment in all areas of life for women. A high number (56%) of women is attending tertiary education such as universities and specialized schools. Japanese women are more educated and skilled than ever before. They hold their own bank accounts and have good health. However, at some point most of the female population drops out of the system and their potentials are being overlooked.

So what is still hindering Japanese women from becoming more equal to their male peers?

The major changing point in the life of a Japanese women is having children. Women’s maternity leave is from 6 weeks before childbirth to up to 8 weeks after childbirth. The (expecting) mother will be receive at least 2/3 of her last salary and other benefit, during this time. After childbirth both parents are eligible to take 12 month parental leave each with receiving 50% of their last earnings. However, a survey (2008) found at that only 1.23% of male employes take parental leave, compared to 90.6 percent of mothers. Only receiving half of one’s income can be a huge burden to families. Since the father’s income is likely to be higher than the mother’s, he will keep his job in order to financially secure his family. However, because kindergarten placements are very scare and difficulties in re-entering the job market, childcare often becomes the mother’s task only.

OECD’s studies have shown some further indicators of Japan’s gender gap. Japanese women spend around 270 minutes per day on domestic work, whereas Japanese men are spend around 60 minutes for housework per day (the OECD average being 131 minutes!). Housework clearly seems to be a female task. Moreover, childcare seems to be a female task too, since many women are only employed part-time. Only 28% of Japanese children under three are enrolled in a childcare institution, this meaning that the rest are being cared for most likely by their mothers. In comparison with other OECD countries, Japan ranks fourth lowest when it comes to public spending on childcare and preschool services.

Once women dropped out of the workforce due to maternity and childcare, it becomes very difficult for them to get a similar position afterwards. What the job market offers mothers will be most likely temporary, low paid, non-regular and part-time. Japanese mothers earn on average 61% less than men (full-time workers between 25 and 44) and even the total average income gap of the working force is still nearly 30%, without taking children into account. Due to this fact many Japanese mothers would rather stay at home than work, if their husband’s income can allow it. Additionally, the Japanese tax system actually disfavors married couples with two full-time incomes.

Creating more opportunities for mothers to re-enter the job market would have a huge impact on Japanese economics. Solving this problem and creating work possibilities for these women would rise Japanese GDP by 16% as the gender gap reports states (2010). Moreover, a change in Japanese society‘s perception of motherhood is urgently needed, if Japan wants to stop its population declining and create a more friendly atmosphere for women.

References

The Mainichi. Japan slips further to 105th in gender equality ranking. 10/25/2013. http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20131025p2g00m0dm026000c.html

The World Economic Forum. The Global Gender Gap Report 2013. http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2013/

OECD Better Life Index. Work-Life Balance (Subindex). http://oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/work-life-balance/

The Japan Times. Pay gap worst for Japan’s mothers. 12/19/2012. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2012/12/19/national/pay-gap-worst-for-japans-mothers/

The Japan Times. Parental leave still finds dads in huge minority. 06/02/2010. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/06/02/news/parental-leave-still-finds-dads-in-huge-minority/

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4 thoughts on “Japan reaches top rank – in gender inequality

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