By almost any measure Japan ranks as one of the worst countries in the OECD, or among advanced economies, to be a working woman. Women are vastly underrepresented in senior positions in companies, politics and society.
Japan’s population has been falling since 2011. In 2014 Japan’s total fertility rate stood at 1.42 children per woman — one of the lowest in the OECD. Population decline has led to labour shortages, decreased consumption and a related hit to the economy, with GDP growth at an anaemic 0.8 per cent in 2015. Decreased tax revenues further raise the spectre that social welfare programs, such as social security-type benefits paid to the elderly, may no longer be fiscally sustainable in the near future. Embracing diversity is a key factor in solving these issues.
Japanese women are making cracks in the glass ceiling of politics. On 15 September 2016, Japan’s main opposition party, the Democratic Party (DP), elected a woman as its new leader. In light of the dearth of women in politics and leadership positions in all sectors of Japanese society, this is a significant development.
According to the latest medium-term Japanese population projections by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the number of people aged over 75 is expected to increase by 5.3 million from 2015 to 2025, while the working-age population, aged 20 to 59, will shrink by 5.3 million. Government policies to increase the wage income of women and facilitate better work–life balance will be crucial to managing this demographic change.