According to the Washington Post, recent data reflects Japanese women now outpace American women in participation in the labor force. Sixty-four percent of working-age women in Japan are employed, compared with 63 per cent of American women.
The Japanese employment rate surged in recent years as the rate in the United States declined and then stagnated. The numbers may confuse casual observers: So what happened?
Economists don’t know for sure. The culprit could be a combination of changing attitudes toward mothers at work in Japan and relatively limited support for mothers at work in the United States.
In 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would prioritise gender equality in the workplace, calling it vital to sustained economic growth. Among his goals: to raise the share of mothers who return to work after the birth of their first child to 55 per cent by the year 2020, which he believes would boost the country’s gross domestic product by 15 per cent.
A 1999 report from Kathy Matsui, Goldman Sachs’s first female partner in Japan, fueled the idea, dubbed Womenomics.
“Japan is a country with a shrinking population caused by a seemingly intractable decline in its birthrate,” Abe wrote in a 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed. “But Womenomics offers a solution with its core tenet that a country that hires and promotes more women grows economically, and no less important, demographically as well.”
Meanwhile, the recovery in the United States has been painfully slow, especially for women.
Roughly 8.7 million jobs vanished during the most recent recession. Since the downturn ended, however, men have encountered less trouble getting back to work, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Between February 2010 and June 2014, men gained 5.5 million jobs, while women gained 3.6 million.
Economist Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, blames this on a blend of forces: The United States doesn’t offer family-friendly workplace policies, such as paid family leave or sick days, and the gender wage gap hasn’t budged much in a decade.
“The question is, why didn’t we continue to make upward progress?” Hartmann said. “That’s partly because women don’t feel like they get a fair break in the labor market.”
One thing Japanese women have that many American workers lack is financial help for new mothers. They receive 58 weeks of maternity leave, 26 of which are paid. Fathers are entitled to the same amount of time off, though less than 2 per cent actually take it.
Abe has also pledged to create 400,000 daycare spaces nationwide by 2018. Parents also receive a “child allowance” from the government, implemented and recently doubled to “reduce the economic burden” on families.
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