The Agenda

Notes on the Gender Gap in Japan

Alexandra Harney, a brilliant investigative journalist and author of The China Price, maintains a blog where she writes occasional dispatches on economic and social affairs in East Asia. Her latest, which I’ve only just read, is on the glass ceiling in Japan.

It won’t be surprising for anyone who has been to Japan and been served tea by a female secretary before meeting with a male executive that Japanese women earn, on average, just over half of what men make. What was new to me was that Japanese women’s average income peaks in their early 30s at just under US$34,000, and falls for the rest of their lives. By their early 50s, women are earning just US$30,000. Japanese men, by contrast, see their income rise over the same period. Men’s income peaks in their early 50s at more than twice what women the same age earn, at almost US$75,000. Unsurprisingly, women represent just 10 percent of Japanese managers, compared with more than 40 percent in the US, according to Fukasawa.

These data reflect the “M-pattern” of Japanese female workforce participation, which climbs in their 20s, falls in their 30s and picks up again in their 40s. Lest you think that this is changing, Fukasawa reminds us that the M-pattern has been in place, essentially unchanged, since the 1980s. While clearly women in many countries struggle to balance work and home life, Japanese women are handicapped in their advance in the workforce by local prejudices (many carried by women themselves) but also the ridiculous shortage of nursery school places.

Interestingly, this has created a situation in which women are eager to marry while men are not, and so the rate of out-of-wedlock births now stands at 25 percent of first children.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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