Japan's record percentage of working mothers masks low-pay jobs

Some 76 per cent of mothers with children under the age of 18 were in the workforce in 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO - In a nod to Japan's gradual efforts to level the playing field for women, the ratio of working mothers rose to a record last year, but the details reflect a still severe gender gap in the country.

Some 76 per cent of mothers with children under the age of 18 were in the workforce in 2021, the Health Ministry said in a report on Friday. That was nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2004.

The data, however, also indicated many of those jobs were in relatively unstable positions.

Last year, 37 per cent of mothers were in non-permanent jobs that are often part-time and lack benefits, while only 30 per cent had permanent roles.

The government has shortened waitlists at daycare and bolstered its parental leave policies.

But a strident working environment that places emphasis on long working hours means many mothers - also saddled with higher childcare burdens than in other advanced economies - can only get jobs that lack financial stability.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he will seek to close the Group of Seven nations' highest gender pay gap as part of his efforts to raise wages overall, but the data suggests there is still some distance to go.

Women in Japan earn just 77.5 per cent of what men do, a gap Mr Kishida is looking to curb by requiring companies to disclose the wage gap between male and female workers as part of his cornerstone "new capitalism" platform.

Without closing the pay gap, Mr Kishida's goal of getting wages to rise to a level where it is part of a positive cycle of economic growth may become even harder. BLOOMBERG

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