Japanese average income and low birthrate

28 May

This is a sort of true story post about Japanese culture or society that I sometimes write from Japanese perspective.
I happened to find this website to be totally surprised by the difference of income between men and women in Japan.
Average annual income (in JPY) in their 30s (I added English for you.)
Disclaimer…the sauce of information is here.

Average annual income (in JPY) in their 40s (I added English for you.)
Disclaimer…the source of information is here.

My surprise is how average income of female workers is going down as they get old! Of course age is not always the factor to decide how much they should earn. But I know why this happens. That’s because many women become a mother, many of whom has to give up her career in Japan. (It’s said 70% of Japanese women quit their job by the time they give birth to their first kid. This must be very high rate.)

You can see women’s income is decreasing as they become busy raising kids. Japan is a parent-unfriendly society, which is why most Japanese women always have to choose either way: to give up her carrier sorry, misspelling I mean “career” or to give up kids. Of course there are women who can get both, but such people are limited, as long as I look around people in the real life. In other words, most of the Japanese women around me belong to either of the group. A: those who give up their carrier “career” or B: those who give up having kids or even a husband!

Also, our society is very strict to those who failed and to those who have blank period of work. Thus, workers who once leave their job cannot easily come back again. Being afraid of this, many Japanese working women tend to get married later and give birth to a baby even later, which should be one of the reasons that accelerates low birthrate.  

Unlike most of the other developed countries, Japanese society is not helpful to those who raise kids, nevertheless we are suffering from low birth rate. It’s actually chicken and egg. One of the reasons that boosted low birth rate was the environment of the society that made it difficult for women to raise kids. Child care centers are always full, because the number of it is way smaller than the number of kids that need it. Many mothers cannot get back to work when the local child care is full. There should be mothers who give up her carrier “career” only because of this.

Many young women want to develop her carrier “career” in their 20s and 30s so that she should not be replaced by a young employee who may work for less compensation. But when she really enjoys working, she would wonder if it’s worth leaving it. She is not even sure if she can come back a few years later after parenting leave is over. What if child care is not available? What if the company wants someone else for a replacement?

Even if they are lucky at a child care problem, mothers have to take a day off to take care of their kids when they are sick. (Child care does not take care of sick kids.) But such happens repeatedly, the mothers will have troubles with their companies and colleagues. Being unable to do over-time work is considered a minus. Plus, they have to take several days off every time their kids get high fever. Such mom workers will be asked to change positions after all and when they want to come back later, their positions would be replaced by someone else and that person will be too strong and authorized already.

There are even small companies such as editing firms that do not even allow maternity leave or parenting leave. They even limit employees “under 27 single only”. Yes, it’s still OK in Japan to ask age, gender, single or married, with kids or no, at job interviews. We have a certain resume format that is used as a standard, sold at any stationery store and Daiso (100yen shop), and this has a section of all things above mentioned. (See below.)

Japanese CV (standard format)


Above 2 pages are usually connected in 1 pape in a row and job seekers in Japan will buy this sheet, fill it out with no cover letter added and submit it. This is the very first step to apply for a job in Japan. If you pass the filter, you will be asked to come to the 1st job interview, followed by 2nd and 3rd…Those who can reach job interviews are those who passed the resumes. Let me tell you, I had to tell an interviewer at work that I would not get married and so I should not have kids in the future at one of the job interviews 10-15 years ago. Things should be better today, but that’s the story behind this, why women should choose way A: to raise kids and give up her carrier “career” or B: to work fully and develop her carrier “career” without kids or even husband.

In Amsterdam I saw a Dutch couple with 2 small kids leaving home at 8:50 am to go to work/child care. They came back before 6pm altogether. (My hotel was next to their house and I happened to witness when they left home and came back home in the same day!) Such a small thing has become something very difficult (almost impossible) in Japan. First of all, overtime work is something very difficult to be avoided at most of companies in Japan. Also hiring a maid or nanny is not popular at all in Japan. It’s only for the rich, not for the average household.

I think it’s our society and companies that made it difficult for women to have both professional work and kids at the same time. Many mothers end up with a full-time mother or a mother with part-time job that has nothing to do with their profession or carrier “career” and usually requires no special skills that they had before they had kids. Because Japanese companies do not like to hire people who have blank period of work, these mothers will hardly have a chance to come back to their professional job years later, unless they were nurse or something.

You see how inflexible and unfair Japanese working situation is. Unless our society becomes generous to working women and mothers, we will keep suffering from low birthrate and unmarried couples, which will eventually deteriorate the whole country in many ways.

What do you think about this problem? How is the situation in your country? How are working women and mothers in your country?

p.s Sorry for my mis-spelling as “carrier” which I meant “career”! (-_-) I do this all the time and spell check doesn’t work in this case…

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32 Responses to “Japanese average income and low birthrate”

  1. Ellinor May 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    As much as I want to live in Japan someday, I find things like these to scare me off a bit. No matter which choice I'd make
    I live in Sweden and since Sweden is a society where we support the state which then supports us as individuals back when we need it, women do not only keep their jobs when they go on maternity leave; they get money from the state corresponding a monthly salary during those months as well. As soon as the child is old enough to stop breast feeding and be in daycare centers(you get to be at home to care for your child for up to one and a half year before this), you can go back to your old position at your workplace as if you were never gone (I think it's even forbidden to fire a woman because she's having children). The fact that our society system also means free healthcare and education helps too and we are very encouraged to have children in our country. The maternity leave is increasingly often split nowerdays between the wife and husband too, as men are starting to want to take bigger responsibilities with the household and the children. This change is necessary, because if the women are going to work on the same terms as men, they will also need to split the work at home to reach true equality between genders. But the government has now issued a money contribution that will make maids cheaper to hire which have made that a bit more popular recently. You still see it much more among the richer families than the working class.

    Overtime hours are rare in Sweden and if you do work overtime you get increased payment for doing so. Once you reach the higher positions in a company, though, this may change. It all depends on how difficult your job is and how high your position is. If you have a simpler job, like for an example, a secretary, you leave work as early as 15:00.

    • Ellinor May 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

      Oh, and the reason I find the Japanese system scary is that no matter what I'd choose, I'd feel like I'm giving up something I didn't want to give up. Something important that I wanted to exist in my life.

      • Laura Autón García May 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

        I know this is not of my business at all, but I really wanted to ask you, why would you think of leaving Sweden? I can tell you the reasons that pushed me to ask you that question of course.
        I love many things related to Japan, in fact, I can say that I am very fond of Japanese culture, language, gastronomy, history, literature, traditional music, theatre and a big etc. However, if I have to tell someone if I would like to live in Japan or not, I would say "not all my life, just one year or two". On the other hand, if someone ask me if I would like to go to live to another country forever, I would probably say Sweden!!
        I am Spanish and although many people think that Spain is a great country, well, i think that it is NOT, so I am looking forward to getting out of here.
        Well, going back to the topic, one of the things that would make me say no to living in Japan is this matter. I am afraid that being a woman is not a good thing for a society like Japanese one, and having grown up in a family that treats men and women as an equal, I can't think of a place where I have to choose between option A or B just because I had the misfortune of being a female. That is way too unfair, even more unfair than having a smaller income.
        Anyways, you may have your reasons to even think of leaving such a great country, but I hope you consider yourself lucky of having been born in such a good country as Sweden is. We both are in the same continent and I describe your country as "the first world" while I describe Spain as "the third world of the first world". Ok, you may say that "the grass is always greener on the other side" In two years I am going to Sweden as an exchange student, so I'll see if the grass is as yellow as spanish's which I really doubt ^^U

  2. Tami May 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    To be honest, i'm not really surprised by the outcome but i wouldn't have thought it would be that bad.
    While the guys salary just keeps increasing, the women just lose – and a lot at that.
    Even if the reason is most of the women returning to their job after the kid that made them quit is old enough, that quite seems unfair.
    In germany it's .. well not similiar, it's more like you experienced in Amsterdamn, women here try to take care of both – work and child – but not entirely, like finidng a good day care.
    Sometimes the work relating the kid is shared between the wife and husband too.

    In case of the salary however, women here still get raises instead of losing or never raising – even if they had a parental leave, women still get 1/6th less then a male though.
    I'm working in IT and i still lose out on salary to some guys that have less skills then me simply because of the gender.

    It's unfair – yes – but it's hard to get anything done about it officialy, some groups now and then try to raise their voice about it but in the end nothing changes.

    Equivalent treatment regardless of the gender won't happen for a while i think, but if you look back into the past – so far it has gotten a loooot better i think. ^^

    Oh and thanks for the interesting statistics! Wouldn't have stumbled over it without this post. ^^

  3. Magali May 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    In France, for salaries is the same. Women are almost always paid less than men for equal work. (but I think it's the same for many women in the world !)
    When you have a job interview, often they ask you if you have children, or if you want to have kids.
    Sometimes you have a boss who tells you that he has dismissed an employee because she asked too many days off because her child was sick. And after he tells you: "I hope that you will not like this!"
    I do not have kids but I find wrong this conduct. (sorry for my English :$ )

    A very interesting article ! thank you !

  4. Patty May 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    I would say that chart doesn't surprise me. In the States, it's very much the same, I don't know about women's salary decreasing over time, but men is still gets paid more. It's not fair, since women carries more responsibilities between home and work. Alot of times I know for a fact that the women are the 'bread winner' (main income earner) of the home. This strains the household because not only are the husband of the women not contributing w/ the household chores, they are no the main earner and their egos are bruised… it's very complicated. But can only imagine similar across the world.

  5. Ange May 29, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    This is a very interesting post. These are the type of things that aren't usually mentioned in Japanese blogs. Or it seems Japanese people don't like to necessarily talk about this sort of thing to foreigners.

    In America, it's a little easier to juggle both because of more accessible childcare services, so there are many mothers than can still work and also be mothers. My mother became a stay at home mother and I think that this made a great positive impact on my life for her to be home with me so much, but I feel bad that she might not have been able to continue the career that she may have wanted. She made the decision for herself, but it seems a bit of a shame that Japanese women are more or less forced to make this choice no matter what or it would be very hard for them to do both.

    Women get the short end of the stick in the workplace for a lot of reason…women still make less then men a lot of the time for the same job and it's very annoying.

    "They even limit employees “under 27 single only" I was a surprised by this too! If a business asked something like that here…they would get a negative response here.

  6. kirin May 29, 2011 at 1:36 am #

    Thank you for your comments! I just noticed the continued page of the CV was missing, so I added it. ^ ^;;
    Sweden sounds great! But I'm shocked to hear women are dealt unfairly at most of the places…

  7. stefhen fd bryan May 29, 2011 at 1:53 am #

    WOW! as a long term foreign resident in Japan (10 years) I am shocked to read this from a Japanese woman. Usually no japanese, man or woman wants to address these chronic social ills in this country. Good on you. These and other chronic social issue in Japan, are the topics about which i write in my book, Black Passenger Yellow Cab: A Memoir of Exile and Excess in Japan. Japan is a dansonjouhi shakai (male chauvinist society), where the men are so stupid that they cant see that their chauvinism is destroying the society. Keep up the good work Kirin Sama. Gambere!

    • kirin May 29, 2011 at 6:10 am #

      Haha, usually no Japanese man or woman wants to address this kind of topic… right! Thank you!
      I'll reply to your email later.

  8. ichigoichielove May 29, 2011 at 2:55 am #

    Wow, a very interesting post (and interesting comments too!).
    As many have already said it's not entirely surprising, although I was a bit stunned over the salary going down so much for the women. One of my former students here in Japan was basically told by her company that if she decided to get married to her boyfriend, she would have to quit. (Not even if she wanted kids, just getting married!) This despite her being a very talented, competent and above all, key person in said company! ^^;

    Some of the stuff mentioned in the comments above, by the way, is illegal in those countries (against working rights laws and whatnot) and they could (And should) be reported. ^^;

    Oh, one small thing! Sorry! ^^; "career" は仕事の事ですけど、"carrier"は担ぎという意味です。

    • kirin May 29, 2011 at 6:13 am #

      Ouch! Seems like I did it again! Thank you for pointing that out for me, I always misspell career and carrier!!! >___< LOL

      I don't know how it is now, but it used to be like that, meaning female workers have to quit her job when she got married to a male worker in the same work place. This was typical at any bank. -_-;;

      • ichigoichielove May 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

        No worries! They sound really similar so it's an easy mistake to make!

        Yeah, it's a shame because it doesn't really make sense these days and plus, it feels like it should be an individual's decision. Buuuut, well, I hope things are changing for the better. ^^

      • kirin May 29, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

        Yes I hope so, and now I really envy that your nationality is Sweden!

  9. Amika May 29, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    I grew up as a "latch key kid." That means that both my parents worked and when I'd come home from school – I'd let myself in the house. My grandparents lived one block away. I had to call them by phone to say I was home. My parents would arrive home a few hours later.

    Now that I'm in my 30s – I'm noticing fewer latch key kids & stay at home moms (that don't need to work at an office).
    The economy is driving both parents to work & work longer hours. Day care services or grandparents watching kids till parents get home from work – is very common here.

    • kirin May 29, 2011 at 6:20 am #

      I think it's nice if grandparents take care of kids while the parents work outside. But…hmmm not many moms can live in the neighbor of her parents, and they dislike to live near parents-in-law. I guess most of Japanese people living in Tokyo or nearby prefectures tend to choose a house as close to the work as possible so they don't have to spend too much time for commuting. BTW, spending 1 hour and another 1 hour to commute between home and office is quite common in Tokyo area, and the commuting trains are always full of commuters and very uncomfortable. 😦

  10. winnie May 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    In Singapore, there is still a slight difference between female and male workers.

    Basically the first and main reason is that Singapore male needed to go for their National Service before the age of 18 years old. It is compulsory for every male. They will need to serve a two year term. So, in order to make up for this small two year difference between male and female. Most company will give a higher starting pay for male workers compare to female workers of the same cohort. After this start, everyone will just continue on the "rat race".

    However, due to Singapore Goverment's planning and various changes on benefits for married couples.There are numerous law made to benefit and make the work environment better and more fair to the female worker.

    Previously, Female can only have one month maternity leave and fathers have only 3 days of paternity leave(My hubby is one of them.) Then the benefits slowly improved.

    For now,
    Example, (if I remember correctly)
    1) Female can take up to one year leave from their work to give birth and take care of their young baby. If they are sack or dismissed during this period then Singapore Government will sue the company.
    2) The father too. Can take up to one month of leave to take care of his wife and baby. If he is sack or dismissed during this period then Singapore Government will sue the company.
    3) If the female is sack or dismissed during her pregnancy then Singapore Goverment will sue the company.
    4) Singapore Government is allowing more Childcare centre (that's what we called them in Singapore) to be establish all over the country, especially in the area where there are more young couples.

    So far, this is what I and my hubby can remember.

    • kirin May 29, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

      Thank you for sharing that information, Winnie.
      It looks like Singaporean Government already started to cope with low birth rate, as I know your country is also suffering from low birth rate and low marriage rate, just like Japan. But the difference is your country has started action to avoid a serious problem expected in the future while my country Japan has not! Your country also accept immigrants but mine doesn't. 😦 I like Singapore's flexibility and generous approach to business owners and investors from abroad.

      • Cath May 29, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

        If you have the time, you can google for "Baby bonus Singapore". The government gives cash for each child delivered too. Maternity leave has been increasing. It was only 28 days decades ago, then it became 8 weeks, then 12 weeks, then now 16 weeks! I had 12 weeks when I gave birth to Samantha, then 16 weeks when I gave birth to Samuel. n_n

    • Cath May 29, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

      No to forget infant care… Our government is really doing a lot. If we still refuse to have kids, I'm all for importing foreigners. Hahah… Kirin, how about you? May we import you? n_n

      • kirin May 30, 2011 at 11:50 am #

        Yes, I'd love to be imported! lol
        I think your government is doing quite well. I'm very concerned about Japanese government: how incompetent they are…(T_T)

    • SingaporeIsJustAsBad May 30, 2011 at 3:08 am #

      I think what Winnie is not saying is, despite the best efforts of Sporean govt, the society is almost as harsh as Japan's. It's a super stressful society that places total emphasis on academic achievements and material wealth. In the past decade, despite the buoyant job market, there are many Singaporeans migrating out of Singapore. So don't be fooled by statistics – Japan and Spore, Asia's two top richest countries, but probably two of the harshest societies. And talking about National Service, it's one thing that makes Spore worse than Japan; at least Japanese males dont have to be 'held up' for two years in life.

      • kirin May 30, 2011 at 11:55 am #

        Japanese males don't have to be held up for two years, but many of them lose purpose of living. -_-;;
        They stay at home, do not study or work but depend on their parents, and their parents have to support such kids (well…kids in their 20s and 30s) with their small pension. Ah…this is another social problem that we have…-_-;;

  11. maneki neko May 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    I read in a book once that if a woman uses a baby-sitter (besides occasionally mother in law) it's a bad idea!! And that there are not many baby-sitters in Japan. Is it true?

    I wouldn't want to get rid of my career either!! In England, some of my co-workers told me it's really hard for a woman between age 23 – 32 to get a full time job because the employer thinks that they'll just go off on maternity leave. And some companies can't afford to pay 9 months leave AND hire someone else for nine months!

    • kirin May 29, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

      Yes, it is very hard to get a baby sitter in Japan. And it is also to ask someone to do house cleaning or cooking, it costs a lot! That's why most of the people cannot rely on such help. (T_T)

    • Cath May 29, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

      If I'm the employer, I wouldn't too! Does the British govt do anything to help the employers during this time?

      • maneki neko June 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

        Not that I know of. (I've been here for only four years, unfortunately ^^) Having to pay two people to do the same job can practically bankrupt some companies. 😦

  12. ilovemamegoma May 30, 2011 at 5:37 am #

    Thank you for writing about this topic. I have been studying about this informally for a couple years now. It is really fascinating how Japanese society works. I think it is really unfortunate that both women and men face these barriers in their careers and in having kids. Women are expected to take care of kids while the husband works at the company. The husband doesn't have a chance to spend very much time with his kids either. These are very strict gender roles. But isn't it the case that many Japanese women want to spend time at home and not have to work?
    My question is, do Japanese women attend university because they want to get a good career or because they are interested in learning or for another reason? Because it seems odd for me to go through the difficulty of attending a university and then work for two years in a company as an OL and then find a husband, get married, have kids, and become a housewife. There is nothing wrong with it of course, I just think it's interesting.
    It is not a perfect situation for women in the U.S. either. Women still sometimes have a hard time getting into managerial positions and we get paid less on the whole. At most offices I have worked at, women do all the clerical work. As for raising kids, there is more flexibility for both men and women, but it is still difficult. At most companies in the U.S. you don't get very much vacation time or leave compared to other countries. Also, in the U.S., housewife is a bad word. Women feel that they can't just be a housewife. It's looked down upon.

    • kirin May 30, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

      I see. Your question sounds reasonable. I think most of the Japanese women who choose to go to university do not think they will have such a hard time once they have a baby. They expect good career at a time when they choose university, and they are willing to work hard when they graduate from university. They think they can have a good career and a baby at the same time but they only face how ruthless the company and working condition is after they have a baby.

      This is only my guess though. :p
      Most of my friends are singles or DINKS (a working man and woman couple with no kids) but when I think of some friends of mine who have kids in Japan, indeed they graduated from university but they ended up with a mother with no job or a casual job that requires no special skills or experiences.

  13. ilovemamegoma May 30, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    That makes sense. It's too bad though. 😦

  14. lluvia May 30, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    It is a problem that also affects us here, in a different way. But women in our society may have trouble reconciling job and motherhood too. There are still companies that prefer hiring single and young women, and in case of pregnancy they may be dismissed because of maternity leave. There are laws banning such actions from companies, but if people don't report it laws cannot work, and report it takes a long and expensive time.
    On the other hand, there are also companies that respec motherhood, and now men can also take leave to care for their children if women don't want to leave a good job. Baby-sitters, grandparents and nurseries for children are a good help for working parents. There's no problem with that.
    But, in general, working mothers can find situations of injustice. It's always difficult reconciling children with some jobs.
    I hope women will hard find to improve their rights. Rights that are truly for everyone, for children, men and all kind of families.

    • kirin May 31, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

      I had to mention big companies or blue chip companies in Japan often offer a good condition for their female workers with baby. But most of the medium – small sized companies don't, and of course everyone is not working for a big company, you know. -_-

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