Increased female education participation has not yet led to gender equality in the labor market in Japan and many other countries, an OECD report says.
Women pay a high price for motherhood, with steep childcare costs, availability or access to such facilities, and taxes deterring many from working more, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in its report titled “Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now.” It says that gains in female education attainment have contributed to a worldwide increase in women’s participation in the labor force, but considerable gaps remain in working hours, conditions of employment and earnings.
In OECD countries, men earn on average 16% more than women in similar full-time jobs. At 21%, the gender gap is even higher at the top of the pay scale, suggesting the continued presence of a glass ceiling. Even though there has been progress in narrowing the gender gap in pay, especially in employment, this is not enough and much remains to be done in many countries.
“Closing the gender gap must be a central part of any strategy to create more sustainable economies and inclusive societies,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said at this week’s launch of the report at the OECD Gender Forum in Paris. “The world’s population is aging and this challenge can only be mastered if all the talent available is mobilized. Governments should make further progress in the access and quality of education for all, improve tax and benefits systems, and make childcare more affordable, in order to help women contribute more to economic growth and a fairer society.”
Looking at Japan, the OECD report said women have made great strides in education. Today, young women in Japan are more likely to have a university degree than young men: 59% of women and 52% of men aged 25-34 years, compared with 23% and 32%, respectively, for women and men aged 45-54. However, a clear gender bias in the choice of study remains: around 60% of Japanese graduates in health and education degrees were women, compared with only around 10% in computing and engineering degrees. Young women are also more likely to attend shorter university courses and/or less prestigious universities, and are less likely to enter fast-track career streams in Japanese companies. Even for younger workers in Japan, the gender pay gap is 15%, and it increases to around 40% for those over 40.
Japanese women have great difficulty to rise to the top and less than 5% of listed company board members in Japan are women, one of the lowest proportions among OECD countries, the report says. Difficulties with reconciling work and family commitments help explain the relatively poor female labor market outcomes in Japan. Social policy provides parental leave and childcare supports to help combine parenting and employment when children are very young.
But many Japanese women still withdraw from the labor force upon childbirth and often cannot resume their regular employment pattern: in the dual Japanese labor market, women often end up in relatively lowly-paid non-regular employment. The tax/benefit system provides financial incentives for dependent spouses to limit earnings and avoid paying income tax.
Also, the OECD report says that Japanese men do little to help their spouses with care commitments: they rarely take parental leave and the long working-hours culture helps explain why, of all men in the OECD, Japanese men spend the least time in unpaid housework (just 59 minutes per day).