Japanese women have long been an underutilized pool of highly educated and skilled individuals. According to data collected in 2012 from the OECD, 5 percent of Japanese men with tertiary education were inactive compared to 32 percent of women with the same levels of education (the OECD average is 12 percent). Today, 75 percent of Japanese women aged 15-64 are active in the labor force (a higher percentage than in the U.S.)
Capitalizing on the high number of inactive and educated workers was a key component of Prime Minister Abe’s 2013 proposal to revitalize the Japanese economy. His plan was based on the “three arrows” of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms. Enacting policies to integrate a higher percentage of women in the workforce was a central objective of the structural reforms. Since Abe entered office, the government has expanded government-sponsored day care, provided economic benefits to companies that hire women, and promoted flexible work arrangements.
Abe’s reforms have helped reintegrate older women into the workplace. An increase in older women active in the labor force demonstrates the beginnings of a shift in cultural attitude towards women in the workplace. Traditionally, women are expected to stay home and manage household affairs after marriage. Many Japanese companies provide a “dependent allowance” as a financial incentive for wives to stay home so that husbands can focus on pulling long hours at work.
Data on the wages, social security benefits and other indications of quality in the jobs older women are filling remains limited, however, their increased participation is encouraging and critical for the Japanese economy. The current population of 127 million is set to drop below 100 million by 2060 and a third of Japanese people will be older than 65. Evidently, more Japanese are recognizing that the country cannot afford to leave out educated and skilled workers.
Contributed by Hannah Juge.