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"DAWN" Newsletter of The DAWN CENTER

The M-Shaped Curve That Is Peculiar to Japan
Hiroko Seino
Editorial Staff of Yomiuri Shimbun, Osaka Headquarters

Under the slogan "Get rid of lonely child-raising," child-raising circles have sprung up in various parts of Japan. At a meeting of one of those circles in the suburbs of Osaka, a young mother said, "I have a one-year-old child. Recently I began to attend a driving school to get a driver's license. This is the first time for me to be separated from my child. Once I got some time to myself, I began to think about getting a job. When my child is young, I could leave my child to a day nursery. But what can I do when my child enters elementary school? I am so concerned that I cannot take a step forward."

A woman who has been involved in a community activity to promote child-raising networks for more than ten years is also concerned about her future with the age 40 close at hand. "I was able to raise three children with the help of child-raising networks. But now I want to stand on my own feet. If my husband cannot work any more for some reason, my children and I will lose our means of livelihood. And if I want to find a job, the age 40 may be the last opportunity." Today many women are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to go out to work.

A graph showing the percentage of women over 15 in the labor force by age bracket in Japan represents a curve shaped like the alphabetical letter M, with the age brackets 20 to 24 and 45 to 49 being two peaks. It means that a majority of women quit their jobs when they get married or give birth to a child, and re-enter the labor market when their children have grown up. Compared with the figures in 1975, the labor force participation rate has increased in general and the bottom of the M-shaped curve has moved to the 30 to 34 age bracket (Figure 1). However, this M-shaped pattern is unusual compared with Western nations (Figure 2).

It is true that support systems including care for preschool, sick and school-age children are not fully established, but that is not the only reason. In Japan, which has few women executives and doesn't regard women as a key labor force, it is impossible for a woman to visualize what her future will be if she continues to work in her workplace. Especially under the current merit system, when a woman is single and says "I will work around the clock if the company wants me to," she is treated on an equal footing with men, but once she gets married or gives birth to a child, she is treated as a second-class employee only because she has responsibilities toward her family. Such a reality has resulted in the tendency for women to marry later and contributed to a declining birthrate in Japan.

In general, a woman who decides to have children will quit her job. The woman herself and the people around her profess to believe that she quit her job because she wants to raise her child by herself. But this is simply not the case. It is despair and resignation that has forced her to quit, even though she is not aware of this. That's why she cannot accept the life of a full-time housewife, which she believes she has chosen by her own will. Giving up her job in order to devote herself to child-raising, she often tries to be a perfect mother and, in the worst-case scenario, even could abuse her children.

What is worse, the practice of "a woman becoming a full-time housewife when she gets married or gives birth to a child" deals a double blow to women who keep working for a company. For one thing, they are regarded as an unreliable labor force. For another, a woman employee who shoulders the responsibility for raising children as well as caring for aged parents cannot compete with her male counterpart who is "determined to work around the clock supported by his full-time housewife." Men's attitude toward gender equality has not changed and women's fixed role in the workplace has constantly been reinforced. Because of this, women are not regarded as equal business partners and thus they are often sexually harassed.

Moreover, most women who start working again when their children have grown up are employed as part-time workers. Under Japan's current tax, pension and wage systems, it is more advantageous for women to be dependentsof their husbands (see "Women and Pensions" p. 8) and their wages are kept low as a result. The wages of full-fledged women employees are also kept low, shattering their hopes and willingness to work.

It is high time to break the M-shaped curve. In June 2001, the Task Force on Support Measures for Combining Child-Raising with a Career (led by Keiko Higuchi, professor of Tokyo Kasei University), formed under the government's Council for Gender Equality, submitted a final report after a heated debate, which includes a recommendation to decrease the number of children waiting to be admitted to day nurseries to zero. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi described the effort as "a structural reform on a daily-life basis" and promised to budget for this in the next fiscal year. It might be a significant breakthrough.

Hiroko Seino,Editorial Staff of Yomiuri Shinbun, Osaka Headquarters.
She reports extensively on everything concerning "family and living," especially on women's issues, child education and problems of the elderly.

Family Head Provision and Women's Rights
Kazumi Moriki

A woman who was working and living by herself in Kobe survived the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, but lost both her job and house. Afterward she met a man and got married. Three years after the disaster, Hyogo Prefecture decided to compensate victims through the Disaster Compensation Fund funded by the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake Recovery Foundation. However, this women survivor could not receive the financial aid because the criteria for receiving the support required that the head of the household had suffered damage from the earthquake. As her husband had not suffered damage, she changed the household registration to become the official head of the household and reapplied. However, the application was dismissed because she was unable to verify that she was supporting the household. Now in reality, women work mainly as family or part-time workers, and there still exists a deep-rooted patriarchal social stereotype that males are household heads. In the midst of such circumstances, the requirement limiting the application only to the household head indicates indirect gender harassment.

The couple whose application to receive the Disaster Compensation Fund because of the Household Head Provision of Hyogo Prefecture was rejected filed a lawsuit to have the rejection revoked. In April 2001, the Kobe District Court handed down the decision that the Household Head Provision violates the Constitution Article 14 first clause (Equality Principle) and public order and standards of decency, and that it should be rescinded. The Hanshin Awaji Earthquake Recovery Foundation appealed to the High Court and the case is now under review.

As another factor to hinder the independence of women, the preferable treatment of full-time housewives regarding pensions and taxes are often pointed out. These are also based on putting the male household head in the center of the family unit. Systems in which only the heads of households are eligible for aid include not only the Disaster Compensation Fund but also family benefits and social security systems. Now is the time to shift the administration from the family unit to the individual.

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