“In the working demographic (age 20 to 50), one single female out of three in Japan is poor,” asserts Aya Abe, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently a general manager at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
Abe’s figures, reports Shaken Taishu (Jan 2), are based on analysis of the so-called relative poverty ratio, as extracted from a basic survey on living standards conducted in 2007.
This is determined through a formula based on the mean take-home pay of individual household members. “Single female” in this context does not include women still living with their parents.
Beyond age 65, the poverty ratio for women increases to 52%; for single mothers with minor children, it’s 57%.
A reporter for a national daily adds that “57% of the nation’s poor are women, and that statistical data show the gap between males and females has been widening since 1995.”
Abe supposes that a key factor is that approximately half of female workers are not employed as regular company staff with full salary, bonus and social insurance, but as part-timers or worker dispatch firms.
“When demonstrators set up the ‘haken-mura’ (village of dispatch workers) in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park at the start of 2008, some people said because no females took part, this served as proof that poverty didn’t affect women,” remarks Midori Ito of the Action Center for Working Women. “That’s insulting. Would women feel safe camping out in a park? These women who had no place else to go were spending all night sitting in family restaurants.
“Actually more women have been affected than men,” adds Ito. “And they’ve been this way for some time already.”
A survey in 2010 determined there are 12,180,000 women employed by worker dispatch firms and working at other non-regular jobs—- which is 54% of the female labor pool. The corresponding figure for males is 5.39 million workers, or 19% of the total.
The aforementioned reporter notes that even after finding employment, many female university graduates are saddled with repaying their student loans, and have little left for discretionary spending.
After paying their rents, student loans and meals, they might have 50,000 yen left to live on, if that.
“Even Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) member companies are inclined to hire career woman through temp help agencies or as part timers. As opposed to an hourly wage of 2,000 yen for males, women get around 850 yen,” points out Ms Ito, who added that such women are generally treated in the category of semi-skilled labor.
Ms. Abe notes that as the ratio of single people to the overall population continues to increase, the number of impoverished females is bound to keep climbing.
Hiromi Ikeda, a psychiatric counselor, notes that women in the 32 to 40 age bracket are members of the so-called “dankai junior,” born during a demographic spike after Japan’s postwar baby boom generation wed and began having children.
“These women grew up in a competitive environment with a large number of classmates, among who few successes at school admissions or job placement were achieved,” she says. “They’ve got a sense of resignation toward life you ordinarily see among younger people.”
Irrespective of their current economic status, says Shukan Taishu, the situation is likely to worsen considerably when these unmarried, childless women reach old age. Already, according to one source, 2.61 million women are receiving monthly pension payments of less than 40,000 yen. “It’s estimated that a 25-year-old single person going on welfare might wind up costing the system more than 100 million yen over the rest of her life,” says the aforementioned reporter. “That’s likely to place a serious burden on the government’s budget.”