Japanese Women: A Step Behind?

Women in the Workplace

Japan and its industries were reshaped after 1945. Government and business put highest priority on promoting industrial growth. The economy grew by 800% from 1955 to 1973. By 1969, Japan's GNP became the world's second largest after the U.S. Accumulated wealth was held by major corporations. As a result of the postwar economic miracle, more and more women could choose to work where they wanted.


Q. How do Japanese women compare with women internationally?
As the chart to the left indicates, in Western industrialized countries, the more education women receive the more likely they are to work. However, in Japan, it is interesting to note that education does not seem to be a determining factor. It will be interesting to see how this changes, however, over the next few years as more and more women define a meaningful job as part of their overall fulfillment package.



Q: What percentage of women work ?
Except for two brief periods in the 1970s working women have steadily increased in the last forty years. The growth in job opportunities in the service sector and women's higher education contributed most to the increase in female employees. Their participation rate in the labor force increased from 33% in 1970 to almost 50% in 1995. 40% of all employees are women today.



Q: For whom do women work?
The Japanese economy was structurally changed in the last two decades. Industries employing women also changed. Women in family firms decreased from 25% to 13%. Self-employed workers dropped from 24% in the mid-1970s to 10% in recent years. More women work in service industries.


Q: Do most women today support working throughout their life?
Although more women work after marriage and having children today, basic patterns remain unchanged. Most women work from graduation until they have children, then stay home. Some women, especially the young and well educated, want to work through their adult years, so after children start school they eventually go back to work. In the last 15 years, men and women disagree about women working. Today 40% of women support the traditional pattern but 33% do not want to quit after getting married or having children. More men support women working but still want wives to be homemakers while raising their children.



Q: Who wants to continue working?

Younger and better educated women want to pursue careers even after getting married or having children. The desire to pursue careers is stronger among women with degrees in natural science and engineering.


Q: How long do women continue working?
Women worked continuously an average of 4 years in 1960, while men worked 8 years. By 1980, 4 years became 6, and by 1996, 6 became 8.2. In 1996, 28% of women worked for 10+ years; 9.2% for 20+. Thus, the number of continuous years worked and number of women working have constantly increased. Still, the gap between men and women is much greater in Japan than in France, the U.S., Germany or United Kingdom.

Average Age of Female Employees and Average Years of Service
 
Average Age (Yrs Old)
Average Working Years
 
Women
Men
Women
Men
1949
23.8
32.5
3.2
6.6
1954
25.4
33.2
3.6
7.2
1960
26.3
32.8
4.0
7.8
1965
28.1
33.2
3.9
7.8
1970
29.8
34.5
4.5
8.8
1975
33.4
36.4
5.8
10.1
1980
34.8
37.8
6.1
10.8
1985
35.4
38.6
6.8
11.9
1990
35.7
39.5
7.3
12.5
1994
36.1
40.0
7.6
12.8


Q: Why do women work?
Women work to seek independence by earning an income to support their desired lifestyle; make a living or maintain a certain standard of living; pay for a mortgage and children's education; spend freely or save for their old age after their husband's retirement; contribute to the family business; fill time and get out of the house; make use of talents and skills

Q: Why do some women stay home and not work?
In the 1960s, male employees in firms and government multiplied, but the percentage of women working fell in spite of double digit economic growth. Possible reasons were:

(1) Women in primary industry left rural Japan to marry salaried workers in urban centers.

(2) Many urban women, unqualified for high paying jobs, were excluded from career positions and did not want to work after marriage.

(3) Many urban families modeled themselves on prewar elite suburban businessmen and their homemaker wives in nuclear families. The harder husbands worked, the more companies grew, and the higher the family’s standard of living. With husbands working all day, wives managed the household and reared children.

(4) With more free time, wives concentrated on child rearing, school and cultural activities. They made sure children did well at school and on entrance examinations. Children were more important than husbands.

(5) Homemakers did not earn an income, but men usually gave their salaries to wives to manage. Wives were responsible for budgets and felt autonomous controlling household accounts.

(6) Wives are responsible for the sick and elderly. Even if parents live elsewhere, once sick or old, they need care; it is usually the wife or daughter-in-law who gives care.