Japan’s population of 127m is predicted to fall to 90m by 2050. As recently as 1990, working-age Japanese outnumbered children and the elderly by seven to three. By 2050 the ratio will be one to one. As Japan grows old and feeble, where will its companies find dynamic, energetic workers?
Nearly half of Japanese university graduates are female but only 67% of these women have jobs, many of which are part-time or involve serving tea. Japanese women with degrees are much more likely than Americans (74% to 31%) to quit their jobs voluntarily. Whereas most Western women who take time off do so to look after children, Japanese women are more likely to say that the strongest push came from employers who do not value them. A startling 49% of highly educated Japanese women who quit do so because they feel their careers have stalled.
Even if the company rule book says that flexitime is allowed, those who work from home are seen as uncommitted to the team.
Staff are also under pressure to stay late, regardless of whether they have work to do: nearly 80% of Japanese men get home after 7pm, and many attend semi-compulsory drinking binges in hostess bars until the small hours. Base salaries are low; salarymen are expected to fill their pay packets by putting in heroic amounts of overtime.
Besides finding these hours just a bit inconvenient, working mothers are unlikely to get much help at home from their husbands. Japanese working mums do four hours of child care and housework each day—eight times as much as their spouses. Thanks to restrictive immigration laws, they cannot hire cheap help.
Thanks to restrictive immigration laws, they cannot hire cheap help. A Japanese working mother cannot sponsor a foreign nanny for a visa, though it is not hard for a nightclub owner to get “entertainer” visas for young Filipinas in short skirts. That says something about Japanese lawmakers’ priorities. And it helps explain why Japanese women struggle to climb the career ladder: only 10% of Japanese managers are female, compared with 46% in America.
Japanese firms are careful to recycle paper but careless about wasting female talent. Some 66% of highly educated Japanese women who quit their jobs say they would not have done so if their employers had allowed flexible working arrangements. The vast majority (77%) of women who take time off work want to return. But only 43% find a job, compared with 73% in America. Of those who do go back to work, 44% are paid less than they were before they took time off, and 40% have to accept less responsibility or a less prestigious title. Goldman Sachs estimates that if Japan made better use of its educated women, it would add 8.2m brains to the workforce and expand the economy by 15%—equivalent to about twice the size of the country’s motor industry.
For Japanese women, the best bet is to work for a foreign company. Two-thirds of university-educated Japanese women see European or American firms as more female-friendly than Japanese ones.
What a lousy and outdated culture! The article is absolutely right that talent waste is the biggest waste of all. Hope future demographic decline will teach the Japanese a lesson or two!