|"DAWN" Newsletter of The DAWN CENTER
|The M-Shaped Curve That Is Peculiar to Japan
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
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
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,
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
|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
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