As I was doing some random internet searching on average salaries across the world, I found a link for data on Japan. While the average, annual earnings of a 24-27 year old for your average Tokyo salaryman was alarming (27,000 USD/year), what shocked me even more was this:
For those that can’t read Japanese, the men’s salaries are listed in blue and the women’s are in pink.
While the pay increases for men as they age, the salary for women actually decreases. In Japan, women don’t even come close to earning as much as their male counterparts—in their entire lives. I knew the pay gap was quite atrocious in Japan, I had lived there and read enough research, but this bar graph was like being splashed with cold water. It’s that bad?
Ok, I thought. This data is from 2006—it’s a bit old. Let’s see if I can dig up something newer.
I came up with this recently published article from Japan’s Huffington Post with data from Japan’s Bureau of Labor, accurately titled as:
See the 2012 statistics for yourself (again, men are in blue and women in red):
Wow. I don’t even need to explain anything.
Look at age brackets 45-54: Men are making triple the amount women are!
Just in case the bar graph wasn’t enough, they made a line graph for our viewing pleasure as well:
The following highlights American women’s earning as a percentage of men’s versus Japanese women’s earning as a percentage of Japanese men.
To put things into perspective: The Huffington Post article mentioned that American women are earning 80% of what American men earn, which is a huge leap from 1979 when it was only 62%.
Japanese women, however, only make 53.3% of what Japanese men make, which is a tiny skip up from 1979’s recording of 51%.
Among all the first world countries, Japan and Korea have the world’s largest gender wage gap. Japan ranks at 28% while Korea clocks in at 39%:
Gender Wage Gap By Country 2009
When it comes to Japan and all of its racist and sexist tendencies, it’s hard to shock me.
It was like an explosion in my brain.
But Why? Why Japan?
I can’t speak for Korea, but Japan’s economy is in the crapper. GDP shrunk almost 2% in half a year. They’re having elections in a week after going through a handful of prime ministers in the last five years. The yen is at the lowest it’s been in ten years—120 to the dollar—and it’s still falling.
And you know what could, perhaps, help the economy? Aside from slack on immigration laws and an overhaul to their archaic social and business system?
Encouraging women to work.
As the Economist posted in an article a few months back, it’s not that Japanese women are being held back from the workforce—they voluntarily leave the workforce. A survey last year showed that a third of very young women want to become full-time housewives.
Japanese companies require hours of overtime, post drinking parties on a daily basis, and basically a blood contract that says I will never miss a day of work and refuse to use my paid leave or take vacation.
If you had the choice of working to death as a salaryman or just staying at home while spending your husband’s hard earned paycheck, it’s no surprise Japanese women take the path of least resistance.
Even K once told me that Japanese women don’t want to work. They just want to get married.
And even if she did want to work, how could she work until 11 PM every night, attend drinking parties with her boss or participate in her child’s school play without using paid leave?
Simply, there is no wiggle room for a woman to juggle a family and a career in Japan.
To quote the Economist article, “When women have their first child, 70% of them stop working for a decade or more, compared with just 30% in America. Quite a lot of those 70% are gone for good.”
And the few that do somehow manage to balance career and family or push forward to make it in the business world are faced with rampant sexism and placed into “clerical” roles.
It’s no wonder one of my Japanese friends, a woman that started a wildly successful PR business in China, had to move to Shanghai to get anything done. Oh, let’s not forget that she wasn’t able to get married until 40 and had to find her Japanese husband in Shanghai (plus, she’s smoking hot and intelligent–I’d marry her).
Japan could stimulate its economy if half of its workforce—the women—were not only allowed, but encouraged, to participate in the workforce, bring their ideas to the table and actually play an active role in its economy. Prime Minister Abe is trying, but like so many things in Japan, it’s going to be a tough act to change.
PS: On a totally unrelated note, I found this really cool Global Wage calculator that is both enlightening and saddening. See how your pay scales out both domestically and abroad.