Japanese women may have doubled their income over the past 20 years, but they still earn only a quarter of what men are paid, according to government data. The average female monthly income was ¥83,896 ($630) per month in February, according to a survey of households by the Statistics Bureau of Japan released this month. Although this is nearly twice what they were earning per month in 2000, it is far less than the average ¥345,645 salary for male workers.

Part-time Employment and Limited Opportunities

Japan has championed working women as the answer to the country’s shrinking population and lackluster economy, but around 70% of female workers are employed in part-time or non-permanent jobs. These positions often mean lower pay and fewer opportunities for advancement. Economic uncertainties have resulted in more companies shifting away from lifetime employment practices, but 63% of male workers are still employed in full-time positions.
Japan ranked 116th out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report in 2022, the only Group of Seven countries failing to make the top 100. Its position is particularly low in the economic participation and opportunity category due to wage inequality and the absence of women in senior positions, such as in company management.

International Women’s Day and the Gender Pay Gap

On International Women’s Day, designed to raise awareness of women’s achievements and challenges around the world, companies in Japan are beginning to address gender-based disparities. The average monthly pay for female full-time workers in Japan was 251,800 yen ($2,190) in 2020, compared with 338,800 yen for their male counterparts.
Japan’s Equal Pay Day, symbolizing how far into the following year women must work to make as much as men did the year before, reveals a major discrepancy. Women in Japan would have had to work an extra 112 days to match men’s pay in 2018, compared with just 17 in Norway.

Factors Contributing to the Pay Gap

Many factors contribute to the problem, including the lack of women in management roles and high-paying, specialized professions. According to Kazuo Yamaguchi, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, just 21% of Japan’s doctors are women, the lowest percentage of any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Additionally, female-dominated fields, such as kindergarten teachers and nutritionists, usually earn less per year than the nationwide Japanese average of 4.87 million yen.

Moreover, while female participation in Japan’s workforce topped 70% in 2018, 54% of working women in 2021 held irregular jobs, compared with 22% of working men. The gender pay gap is a red flag for Japan, as it inversely correlates with labor productivity. The nation could lose out on future growth if it fails to eliminate hurdles currently keeping many women from advancing professionally.

Efforts by Companies to Address the Pay Gap

In the U.S., a 2019 paper by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Chicago found that the entrance of women and Black men into skilled occupations previously closed to them drove 20% to 40% of growth in gross domestic product per person between 1960 and 2010.
Some concerned companies in Japan have already begun efforts to address the current situation. Sompo Japan Insurance in 2020 overhauled its criteria for promotion, which had put full-time workers based in one area around four years behind peers who could be transferred nationwide. Women made up 98.8% of the former group.

In fiscal 2020, chemical company Teijin launched a review of the pay gap at core units in Japan and abroad. It has set detailed guidelines regarding compensation, including for bonuses and special allowances.

But many companies overseas have gone even further. Salesforce.com has appointed a chief equality officer, investing $16 million so far to address inequalities within the company. It tracks wages and the rate of promotion at different levels of the organization and makes adjustments when it finds discrepancies between genders.

IKEA carries out external assessments on gender equality at the Ingka group, a key retail unit. Subsidiaries in different countries provide annual updates on gender and pay at board meetings, while all management must complete e-learning coursework on pay equality.

Shifting Social Norms for Change

A significant change in Japan would require a shift in its social norms, which still associate certain jobs with certain genders and value those willing to put in extremely long hours. Hisashi Yamada, vice chairman of the Japan Research Institute, stated that “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.”