Japan needs to expand its work force, which is shrinking rapidly.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that Japan's working-age
population will fall almost 40 percent by 2050.
Among economists (most of whom are male), there is a tendency to
treat diversity and gender equality as "soft" issues -- worthy
social goals perhaps, but secondary to the real business of economic
growth, job creation and productivity.
But those soft issues have jumped to the top of the long-term
growth agenda in Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is working
to shake the nation out of its 20-year deflationary slump.
So far, the world's attention has focused on Mr. Abe's bold
macroeconomic policies to lift demand and growth in the short run.
But in a departure from tradition, he is also championing changes to
expand economic opportunities for women.
Mr. Abe believes in numerical targets, and he has established
several of them to increase the participation and advancement of
women in the workplace. He wants to eliminate day care waiting lists
by creating 200,000 new day care openings in authorized public
facilities by 2015, with another 200,000 by 2017. He wants
businesses to double their child-care leave to three years. He wants
30 percent of leadership positions in government and business to be
held by women by 2020. He is calling on Japanese corporations to
appoint at least one woman to their boards. And he is considering
changes in tax laws that discourage mothers from working and new
training subsidies to help them return to the workplace following
Those initiatives are not motivated by softhearted political
correctness but by hardheaded economic logic. Japan needs to expand
its work force, which is shrinking rapidly as a result of a sagging
birth rate and an aging population. The International Monetary Fund
estimates that Japan's working-age population will fall almost 40
percent by 2050. The share of citizens older than 65 is expected to
jump to 38 percent in 2050 -- when the ratio of the working
population to the elderly population will be one to one -- from 24
percent in 2012.
"Japan is growing older faster than anywhere else in the world,"
the I.M.F. reported. Unless the nation can shore up its work force,
it faces a long-term drag on economic growth at a time of soaring
obligations for old-age entitlements.
Japan has one of the largest gender gaps in the world. Even
though women are highly educated -- indeed, the university
enrollment rate for 18-year-old females now exceeds that for 18-
year-old males -- the female employment rate is about 25 percentage
points lower than the rate for men, and ranks among the lowest in
the developed countries.
Japan also has the largest gender pay gap of any country in the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of
free-market democracies, with the exception of South Korea. On
average, Japanese women earn about 72 percent of the compensation of
men for equivalent jobs. The gender pay gap rises during
childbearing and child-rearing years indicating a "motherhood pay
penalty." That penalty is larger in Japan than in any other O.E.C.D.
country, including South Korea.
In the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum,
Japan ranked near the bottom -- 102 out of 135 countries -- on an
index measuring gender parity in economic participation and
opportunity. Japan has consistently had the worst ranking of any
developed economy on this index since it was introduced in 2006. …