I've been doing some research on Japanese social trends, and came across a fascinating article that I thought was worth sharing. The piece, by the astute social commentator Maki Fukasawa (who coined the term "grass-eating men"), is in Japanese, so I will summarize it here.
Fukasawa's piece, part of a column she does for Nikkei BP's Associe, a smart Japanese website aimed at working women, is ostensibly about the gap in male and female views on marriage, but it covers a lot more territory that has relevance to anyone interested in the Japanese economy. (As an aside, why are so many women's sites in America so trivial and fluffy?)
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. There are 20,000 children on waiting lists for day-care centers in Japan. Only 28.5 percent of women with children under three work; by the time these kids are 6, 48.2 percent of their mothers work.
And I'd be willing to bet that many of those women aren't working full time. Women, like young men, are much more likely to be on non-staff contracts. Women accounted for 30 percent of Japan's non-staff workforce in the 1980s. Today, they account for more than 50 percent. I suppose you could argue that this reflects a higher total workforce participation for women today.
Fukasawa argues that these data support why men and women in Japan are so far apart on marriage. Women, including the "meat-eating" hunter women Fukasawa talks about, are very keen to get married, but men are shying away from this rite of passage. (This might explain why 25 percent of first children in Japan are conceived out of wedlock, according to Japanese government data, and why wedding planners now cater to pregnant brides, something that would have been unheard of as a business model a decade ago.)
The problem isn't hidden, Fukasawa says. It's obvious. That's why women care so much more about marriage - it's their best shot at financial security. And it's why men, concerned about being laid off, are even more reluctant to get married, since that means supporting another person (and likely a child as well) economically for the rest of their lives.