Women’s Empowerment and Its Economic Impact

Part 3: Emphasis on the Reform of Working Styles and the Employment Policy

Consulting Fellow, RIETI

Policies that promote or hinder women's labor force participation include "budget allocation" for developing childcare centers, "taxation system" providing spouse deductions, and "laws" such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, Child Care and Family Care Leave Act, and Women's Workplace Participation and Advancement Act.

Other elements that could affect it include the Labor Standards Act, which define provisions on overtime work and flextime, the Part-Time Employment Act, and the Temporary Staffing Services Act, as well as corporate systems such as the employment and management of career-track workers and general clerks, wage structure (seniority-based and performance-based) and the awarding of spouse allowances.

The objectives of these policies can be categorized into (1) work-life balance (WLB), (2) gender equality, and (3) countermeasures for the low fertility rate, but the means of achieving these objectives are overlapping. Previously, main policies that promoted women's empowerment focused on women, e.g., the introduction of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act in 1985, its amendment in 1997, the introduction of the Child Care and Family Care Leave Act in 1992 and its subsequent amendments. More recently, however, the government is promoting reforms on working styles, encompassing a review on the practice of long working hours, transition into more flexible working styles (flextime and work-from-home), and men's participation in parenting.

Many studies have empirically shown that companies with well-established WLB measures and "Positive Actions" (actions for eliminating any impediments to equal employment opportunities and gender equality in employment conditions) as well as short working hours and high employment mobility have a high ratio of women in full-time and managerial positions. Companies with a culture of traditionally Japanese employment practices such as long-term employment and seniority wages are shown to have lower female workplace participation.

Following public and private sector initiatives for women's empowerment, the ratio of companies whose female employees' most typical working pattern is to "stay employed even after marriage and childbirth," has jumped from 47.6% in 2006 to 72.9% in 2014.

The factors attributable to this increase can be the effects of introducing and administrating WLB measures, prompting more people to take advantage of them. The increase in women's continuous employment can be almost fully attributed to the effect of administrating the WLB measures. Instead of merely introducing a WLB system, companies must make efforts to circulate information about the system and encourage employees to use it before successfully increasing the ratio of women staying in the workforce.

>> Original text in Japanese

* Translated by RIETI.

August 24, 2016 Nihon Keizai Shimbun

September 29, 2016

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