Japan's gender gap

Author:Kazuo Yamaguchi
Position:Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago

A lack of gender equality in career opportunity and long work hours perpetuate wage differences.

apan is not making progress in
gender equality, at least relative to
the rest of the world. Despite the
Japanese government’s attempts
in recent years to pass legislation
promoting the economic activity of
women, Japan ranked a miserable 110 out of 149
in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender
Gap Index, which benchmark s countries on their
progress toward gender parity across four major
areas. While this rank is a slight improvement
over 114 out of 146 in 2017, it remains the same
or lower than in the preceding ye ars (111 in 2016
and 101 in 2015).
Among the primar y reasons for Japan’s low rank-
ing is its large gender wage gap. At 24.5 percent
in 2018, the gender wage gap is the second largest
among Organisation for Economic Co -operation
and Development (OECD) nations, surpassed only
by South Korea.
Why is this gap so l arge in Japan? A major cause is
the large number of women who are “non-regular”
workers. “Regular” workers in Japan a re employed
on indefinite terms without specific job obligat ions
and are strongly protected from firi ngs and layoffs,
while non-regular workers—i ncluding many full-
time employees—have fixed-term contracts with
specific job obligations. Just over 53 percent of
employed women ages 20 to 65 fall into the non-
regular categ ory, compared with just 14.1 percent
of employed men in 2014.
As is true else where, Japan’s non-regular employees
have nearly uniformly low wage s, irrespective of age
and gender. For regular employees, on the other
hand, wages increase with age until the employee
reaches approximately 50 years old. is i s because in
a large majority of Japanese firms, re gular employees
receive wage premiums based on years of service.
e gender disparity in the proportion of non-
regular employees is perpe tuated by the employers’
perception that new graduates are more desirable
candidates for regu lar employment. Because employ-
ers tend to prioritize the hiring of these youn ger job
seekers for regular employment, women who leave
their jobs for childrearing and attempt to re-enter
the job market at a later date have very limited
opportunities for regula r employment.
However, my analysis of the gender wage gap
by a combination of employment types (four
categories distinguishing regular versus non-regular
employment and full-time versus part-time work)
and age categories finds t hat gender differences in
employment type—specifically the larger propor-
tion of women than men employed in non-regular
positions—explain only 36 percent of the gender
wage gap (Yamaguchi 2011). In fact, the primary
factor is actual ly the gender wage gap within fu ll-time
regular employment, which accounts for more tha n
half of the overall gender wa ge gap. e elimination
of the gender wage gap among regular workers is
therefore a more pressing issue than fi xing the over-
representation of women in non-regular employment.
Male-dominated management
A major cause of gender wage dispa rity among regular
employees in Japan is the deart h of female managers.
According to the 2016 Basic Survey on Equalit y of
Employment Opportunity by the Minist ry of Health,
Labour, and Welfare, women hold 6.4 percent of the
positions of department director or equivalent; 8.9
percent of section head or equivalent; and 14.7 percent
of task-unit supervisor or equivalent.
is same survey also asked employers with
very few female ma nagers for the possible causes
of the paucity of women in the higher rank s. e
two major reasons identified among many pre-
specified possible reasons were “at the moment,
there are no women who have the necessar y
knowledge, experience, or judgment capabil ity”
and “women retire before attainin g managerial
positions due to their short years of service.” Such
perceptions held by employers are misguided,
as my own research (Yamaguchi 2016) reveals
a very different picture.
I conducted an analysis of fi rms with 100 or more
employees and found that only 21 percent of the
gender disparity among reg ular workers in middle
Women lack the
opportunity to go
into professions
other than those
deemed suitable
for women.

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