He is not kidding: With Japan’s working-age population set to decline rapidly over the next 30 years, it must make sense not to assume that half the workforce will be staying at home — and Japan has a lot to do to catch up, even with its Asian neighbors. More than 20 percent of managers are women in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam; in Japan, it is less than 10 percent.
An IMF report from last year suggested that Japan could boost its GDP by as much as 5 percent over the next two decades by raising the proportion of women who work (the “participation rate”) from 62 percent to 70 percent — the average for the G7 excluding Italy, whose women face their own struggles, not least against the pervasiveness of “bunga bunga” culture.
In developed countries, the solutions are tried and tested. Japan could focus on expanding the availability of parental leave, encouraging flexible working hours and spending more taxpayers’ cash on supporting childcare, for example. Once it has become practical for mothers to work, cultural change should eventually follow, though perhaps with a long time lag.
Back on the farms of rural India — a country in which the female participation rate is just 29 percent, and has actually fallen in recent years — the challenges are more complex. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has suggested one key explanation for low female participation is so-called “occupational segregation.” Women are concentrated in a few industries, including agriculture, handicrafts and basic manufacturing, that, as well as being poorly paid, have created few new jobs in recent years.
Had Indian women been able to take up roles in the same range of industries as their male counterparts, the ILO reckons, twice as many could have found a job between 1994 and 2010. Here, part of the answer must lie in girls’ education; but it must also relate to deep-seated attitudes to women that have surfaced in an extreme way in a series of appalling recent cases of violence, and may take many years of tenacious campaigning to shift.
Yellen, Merkel and Lagarde are inspiring trailblazers; powerful women doing fiendishly difficult jobs in what remain the predominantly male fields of politics and economics.
However, “womenomics” is not just about those who have fought their way to the top, but also those who remain trapped at the bottom.