The gender pay gap in Japan means women only make 74% as much as men, while remaining a minority in lucrative professions. Following International Women’s Day 2022, concern is mounting for its effect on economic productivity.

Women in Japan are still making only 74% as much as men, and remain a minority in lucrative professions, demonstrating the country’s struggles to bridge the gender pay gap. In 2020, the average monthly pay for full-time female workers in Japan was JP¥251,800, opposed to the JP¥338,800 of their male counterparts. 

Japan’s Equal Pay Day demonstrates how far into the next year women have to work to make as much as the men reveals a huge discrepancy as well. In 2018, Japanese women would have had to work an additional 112 days compared to the men, compared to only 17 in Norway. 

There are several factors that contribute to the issue. Kazuo Yamaguchi, a University of Chicago sociology professor stated, “There are few women not only in management roles, but also in high-paying and specialised professions like medical doctors and lawyers.”

Only 21% of doctors in Japan are women, the lowest percentage of any country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Compare this to professions like kindergarten teachers and nutritionists that are overwhelmingly female-dominated fields that earn less per year than the national average of JP¥4.87 million. 

Although there was a 70% female participation rate in Japan’s workforce in 2018, 54% of working women in 2021 occupied irregular jobs, in comparison to 22% of working men. 

The gender pay gap inversely correlates with labour productivity, meaning the country could miss out on future growth opportunities if it neglects the hurdles keeping many women from advancing professionally. 

Certain companies in Japan concerned with the situation have commenced efforts to address the issue. For example, in 2020, Sompo Japan Insurance overhauled its criteria for promotion, which put full-time workers based in one area approximately four years behind peers who could be transferred nationwide. This group was made up of 98.8% women. 

Chemical company Teijin launched a review of the pay gap at core units both in Japan and overseas, setting guidelines for compensation, including bonuses and special allowances, in the fiscal year 2020. 

These efforts pale in comparison to companies abroad that invest huge funds to address inequalities. For example, IKEA carries out external assessments on gender equality at the Ingka Group, a key retail unit. In addition, subsidiaries overseas must provide annual gender and pay updates at board meetings, and all managerial staff have to complete e-learning coursework on pay equality. 

Japan needs a shift in social norms to facilitate significant change. Certain professions are still associated with certain genders, and there is a high value placed on those who are willing to put in very long hours, excluding, for example, mothers. 

Hisashi Yamada, vice-chairman of the Japan Research Institute, stated, “Creating an environment where women can thrive will result in a society where all people can make use of their talents, regardless of age or nationality.”


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