The Rationale of Womenomics
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Index, Japan is ranked 104 out of 142 countries in gender equality, significantly behind its developed-country peers. Limited opportunities for women, particularly for mothers, could be an important contributing factor to Japan’s demographic challenges.
In response, as part of his economic initiatives known as Abenomics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is promoting a program of so-called “Womenomics,” a concept developed by Goldman Sachs Managing Director and Economist, Kathy Matsui, in 1999, Womenomics is based on the premise that improving opportunities for women can both mitigate the effects of Japan’s shrinking workforce and actually increase the fertility rate.
To this end, the Abe government has introduced numerous policies and targets to boost female workforce participation, encourage more widespread embrace of family-friendly policies by employers, and raise the status of women more generally. Major initiatives include expanding the number of childcare centers for working parents, encouraging the promotion of women to leadership positions in business and government, increasing the availability of paid maternity and paternity leave, and reforming the tax system to incentivize female workforce participation.
Prime Minister Abe’s embrace of Womenomics has garnered praise from all over the world. If successfully implemented, his program could produce a genuine social revolution in Japan. However, achieving a more equitable society in which women enjoy equal opportunities would likely require not only policy change but also significant change in cultural attitudes about work and family. Japanese mothers, including those who are highly educated, have a hard time finding and keeping jobs given a demanding and inflexible work environment. For the same reason, few men consider taking advantage of family-related benefits, like paternity leave. Some commentators question whether the government can make significant progress, absent a cultural change.
• Shinzo Abe, “When Women Thrive, So Will the World,” Bloomberg View, 24 April 2015.
• Toko Sekiguchi, “Q&A: Goldman’s Matsui Says Survival Instinct Driving ‘Womenomics,’” Japan Realtime, Wall Street Journal, 23 April 2015.
• Masami Ito, “Can women really ‘shine’ under Abe?” Japan Times, 22 November 2014.
• Emma Chanlett-Avery and Rebecca Nelson, “‘Womenomics’ in Japan: In Brief,” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, 1 August 2014.
• Yoko Sudo, “Goldman Sachs’ Matsui Challenges ‘Myths’ of Womenomics,” Japan Realtime, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 2014.
• Kathy Matsui et al, “Womenomics 4.0: Time to Walk the Talk,” Goldman Sachs, 30 May 2014.
• “Holding back half the nation,” The Economist, 29 March 2014.
• “Japan,” Gender Gap Index 2014, World Economic Forum.
• Kathy Matsui et al, “Womenomics: Japan’s Hidden Asset,” Goldman Sachs, 19 October 2005.