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By Debbie Howard

One of the most important consumer segments in Japan is that of working women; the changes we can observe among this group are having a significant effect on Japanese society, both at work and at home.

When compared to Western countries, Japan still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality. However, the good news is that the labor force participation rate for women has increased for the second year in a row.

In 2007, nearly half of all Japanese women over 15 had a full- or part-time job, and the percentage rose to 64% for single women, indicating that women tended to leave the workforce upon getting married and having children. However, the number of Japanese who thought women should continue their careers even after having children was increasing.

According to a survey in the Annual Report on the State of the Formation of a Gender-Equal Society, issued by the Cabinet Office, in fiscal 2014 53% of women thought women should continue working after having children. That is up dramatically from 42% in 2005 and 27% in 1992. For men, the shift was equally dramatic, increasing from 19% (1992), 39% (2005), and 58% (2014).

Of course, without support from the companies that provide jobs, many women would not be able to achieve their goals of having longer-term career opportunities. Thankfully, it seems Japanese companies are beginning to acknowledge the value that female workers bring to the workplace. The 30% Club is a global organization dedicated to having women in 30% of Board of Directors roles, and the Japan branch aims for that goal among TOPIX100 firms by 2030. Moreover, over the past 20 years, Kathy Matsui of Goldman-Sachs has periodically released a report on Womenomics, which takes a hard look at the state of women and their role in Japanese society and the workplace.

In 2004, for example, 42% of workplaces in Japan offered reduced or flexible hours to help employees raise their children. Of this group, 69% provided these options until the child turned 3, and 21% offered them through early elementary school age. Also, according to the 2017 Ministry of Health, Labor & Welfare’s report, 66% of workplaces in Japan offered reduced hours, 15% allowed flextime, and 3% allowed for telework or remote work. We have also covered these trends in the changing workplace:

Meanwhile, the government planned to encourage and increase the labor participation rate for women in 2007. The Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy compiled a draft of labor market reform legislation that seeks to have 70% of all married women aged 25–44 join the workforce by 2017. These reforms would effectively raise the labor participation rate for young, married women by 14 percentage points from 2006 levels.

The draft stressed the need to balance work and family life, calling for less overtime and a cut in yearly working hours. In June 2019, the government announced that women’s participation in the labor market had surpassed 71.3%, with 30.03 million women between the age of 15 to 64.

As more and more Japanese women have the opportunity to work — whether it be full time, part-time or by continuing their careers after having had children — they will have increasing economic clout. Wives have long been the acknowledged purse-string holders in Japanese households, and through our market research projects and trend-watching, we can already see married women exerting influence over a wider variety of budgetary matters — including savings, investments and daily household expenses. Of course, the purchasing power of single Japanese working women (and men) has been well-reported.

Japanese working women’s increasing freedom and financial wherewithal are changing Japan society. These changes have been subtle and organic; they are here to stay and worthy of consideration by companies when mapping out the marketing for practically any product or service.

Debbie Howard is Chairman of CarterJMRN and President Emeritus of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

Originally Published in Nikkei Weekly, 6th August 2007

CarterJMRN is a strategic market research agency that has been helping clients with consumers and businesses in Japan and beyond since 1989.

We believe that, although the terrain you face in building a successful marketing strategy and activation path sometimes seems obscure, the path to success is knowable and that the consumer is the guide who will show you the way.

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