In 2013, Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a new economic initiative: womenomics. Womenomics was meant to bolster Japan’s economy by employing a larger percentage of women in the workforce. Following nearly two decades of slowed economic growth and constant recessions due to a decreased workforce, womenomics would increase the number of workers and allow Japan to return to growth. However, nearly a decade later, there is little evidence that these policies have been effective in giving women jobs and reducing the gender wage gap in Japan. Instead, Japan continues to have among the highest rates of income inequality throughout the world.
In 2018, the World Economic Forum released its Gender Gap Index, ranking countries based on four benchmarks. Japan ranked 110 out of 149, in the bottom third. This was spurred by Japan’s high gender wage gap, where women make just 75.5% of what a man would make for the same job. Much of this is because of the disproportionate number of women in part-time and contract positions. While only just over 14% of men in Japan are in these positions, 53% of women who are working are in non-regular jobs. These all greatly contribute to gender income inequality in Japan.
As previously mentioned, Japan began to tackle this issue under Prime Minister Abe’s “Womenomics.” Womenomics was meant to tackle a variety of factors preventing women from entering the workplace. From building more daycare and child care centers to allow women to leave their kids during the day safely to changing economic policies that allowed for tax breaks if a wife earned less than 1.03 million yen ($6,872), Abe seemed determined to make it easier for women to enter or reenter the workforce. Because women did not work at the same rates as women in places such as the United States, there were barriers to entering the workforce that are not as common in the U.S.
Now and Later
While policies have been somewhat effective, notably 66% of Japanese women are now in the workforce, and the tax break threshold has been upped to 1.5 million Yen, Japan still falls short of their goals. While it is great that two-thirds of Japanese women are now in the workforce, it is imperative that these women are afforded full-time roles like Japanese men. Until the percentage of women in those jobs goes up, womenomics will not be a success. Additionally, while Shinzo Abe looked to appoint more women to his cabinet, current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has only one woman in his cabinet. This does not set a good example when looking to reduce gender income inequality in Japan.
Tackling gender income inequality in Japan is one of the most important parts of revitalizing the Japanese economy. If successful, women would be able to be more financially and generally independent within Japan than they are now, allowing them to rely on their own wages and earnings and not just that of their husbands.
– John Rooney