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Vol. 2 Overall Trends of Japanese Women in Business

Palette Editorial Team

December 23, 2018

Palette editors overview the basic facts and figures about Japanese women in workforce. Following the article to look back the history of female labor, we observe the trends after 1980s.  This article is based on the presentations at the University of Colorado and Showa Women’s University Joint Workshop for Students, held in May 2016.

Equal Opportunity in the Workplaces

In 1986, a new law of Equality Employment Opportunity Law was enacted to remedy many gaps between men and women in the workplaces.     The law prohibits any gender discrimination in the conditions of employment and this law pushed many college-graduated women to enter the workforce in the same footing with men. 

Figure 5. A Change of the Gender Wages Difference

Source: Labor Force Survey, Government of Japan

   We can see the gender wage gap gradually has become smaller over 20 years after this law. Wages for female workers, however, is still only two thirds of male’s one. Moreover, compared with the world, Japan’s wage gap is third-worst in the ranking, after South Korea and Estonia, according to the Transforming World Atlas reported by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch in 2016.

Reason of Wage Gap

Despite of the fact that Japanese female labor ratio has remained around 50% , why does Japan's wide gap between genders sill exist? (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Labor Force and Participation Ratio by Gender


   It is largely because that many Japanese women work as part-time workers. Equal Opportunity Law enabled women to remain in their career  after their marriage as shown in the fact of rapid increase of dual-income households after 1980s.  As many married women refrained from working hours to handle their duties at home, their wages did not grow accordingly. Moreover, because the social insurance premiums and taxation are designed to be more generous for part-time workers than full-time workers, many women refrain from switching to full-time track (see Figure 7 and 8)

   Another problem is very-long working hours of full-time workers of both genders. The sad news of the death of a young female professional at the famous PR company on the Christmas eve triggered the national debate to change this unproductive practices.

Figure 7. Number of Dual Income Households 

Source: National Census, Government of Japan

Figure 8. Number of Female Part-time Workers

Source: Labor Force Survey, Government of Japan

Labor Participation by Sector

Let’s take a look at 21st century by sector. The graph shows female workforce in IT service, retail, manufacturing, agriculture, and finance, respectively (see Figure 9).

   While number of women working in IT service and financial sector is increasing, retails and manufacturing are decreasing.

Figure 9. Female Labor Force by Sector (1,000 people)


Women in the Leadership Positions

Back to the question at the beginning. Figure 10 shows how do Japanese women take the lead in society.

Figure 10. Ratio of Female Leaders by Sector (%)

   Although Japanese government and companies try to activate women labor force, there are still very small portion of women leaders in every sector except for pharmacist. Why is it so hard for Japanese women to take the leadership in workplaces?

   The biggest problem is the fact that about 60 % of women quit the job after they give a birth, even though they fairly satisfied with their jobs (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. Female Work and Child-Rearing


   There are child care leave act enacted in 1991 but it is difficult for women to exert the right of leave. For many women, handling both working and taking care of child is extraordinary difficult thing.

   Actually, there are big gap between Japanese wife and husband to spend their time for housekeeping tasks. According to the ILO report in 2007, 28.5 % of Japanese workers work more than 79 hours per week, followed by UK workers (24.9%), US (17.3%), France (8.6%), and Norway (3.3%). Such long working hours make it difficult for husbands to take fair home responsibilities. While average husbands in Germany, Sweden, and Norway spend more than 3 hours per day on housework, Japanese husbands only spared an hour.

In conclusion

In 19th century, women began working in the manufacturing industry. Their working conditions were very bad but even though they were happy to have every meal and wages by themselves. This is the chart edited by Prof. Mariko Bando. She analyzed female roles according to post-war social and economic developments.

   In the globalized economy, women entered into the mainstream of labor market to pursue professional career. Backed by Equal Employment Opportunity Law, Child- and Elderly-Care Leave Act, and the most recent act of “Promoting Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace,” it is strongly expected that women also will take the leadership roles.





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