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Top>Opinion>85.6% of Women and 1.72% of Men: What Do These Figures Represent?


Shozo Yamada

Shozo Yamada [Profle]

85.6% of Women and 1.72% of Men: What Do These Figures Represent?

Shozo Yamada
Professor of Labor Law and Social Security Law, Chuo Law School (Professional Graduate School of Law), Chuo University

What are these figures?

Do you know what these percentages-of which that for females is predominantly higher than that for males-represent?

These figures are the rates of those who took leave of absence for child care in 2009. Given that the statistics for 2008 showed 90.6% for females and 1.23% for males, the figure for females actually decreased by 5 points, which is the first decline since the establishment of the child care leave system. On the contrary, the rate for males slightly increased by about 0.4 points, though it is currently far from achieving the goal set by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) to increase the percentage of men who take child care leave to 10% in 10 years (the Percentage of Workers Taking Child Care Leave is calculated by the number of workers who started the child care leave by the time of the survey (including those who declared a plan of starting the leave) among those who delivered babies during the previous fiscal year of the survey (or those whose spouses delivered babies, in the case of males) divided by the total number of such people who experienced birth).

Ikumen stars

The term work-life balance is recently becoming popular. Probably in line with this trend, the Labor Contract Act enacted in December 2007 sets out that "A labor contract shall be concluded or amended between a worker and an employer while giving consideration to the balance of treatment according to the actual conditions of work." (Article 3, Paragraph 3). In addition, it seems that the word ikumen-a Japanese slang term meaning cool guys who care for their children, playing on the word ikemen, a slang term which means handsome guy-will be nominated for the 2010 Keyword of the Year, and MHLW started the ikumen project earlier this year and reportedly named some men as ikumen stars in October. While the word star means those who shine like stars, it might also imply that the concept of ikumen is still far off in the distance, like a star. Though the term work-life balance is steadily accepted more and more widely, the rate of women who stay at work even after delivering the first baby is still as low as 38%, which means that two thirds of females quit their job when they have the first baby. This percentage has been almost constant over the last 20 years, which more than anything speaks to the real situation of this issue.

Relationships between work-life balance and gender equality

Unquestionably, a work-life balance is advocated to ensure that workers, whether male or female, can continue their job while taking care of their children or other family members at the same time. It should also be noted, however, that the advocacy of a work-life balance is closely tied to gender equality in employment in general beyond the issue of child care leave.

One issue that is occasionally raised with respect to gender equality in employment is statistical discrimination, which is the idea that avoiding the recruitment or promotion of female workers is reasonable because the costs of their education and training cannot be recovered due to their generally shorter service years or early retirement for delivering babies or taking care of children as mentioned above. Nevertheless, plaintiffs of gender discrimination trials are almost always female workers who have worked for a long period. This fact clearly indicates how meaningless it is to argue about the generally shorter service years of female workers. Incidentally, it should be confirmed here that the original purpose of laws prohibiting discrimination such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Law is to prohibit statistical discrimination.

While the issue concerning equality and costs is one of challenges to labor law, increasing the number of service years for female workers is vital to counter the argument about costs discussed earlier. It would also clarify the significance of the child care and family care systems as institutions which enable parents to simultaneously cope with both work and the care of children or other family members, the latter of which has essentially been borne by (or laid upon) women.

Furthermore, on the assumption of the social situation that women are solely engaged in child care and family care, employment of women would impose on companies what they might consider to be extra costs of child care and family care, which could be avoided by hiring men instead of women. From this point of view, it could even be pointed out that companies practicing gender discrimination are unfairly evading the social costs of child care and family care in our society with its continuously declining birthrate.

The conclusion, therefore, is obvious: the key to neutralizing the cost of caring for children or other family members is to have men work in child care and family care as seriously as women currently do. In other words, the key to gender equality in the workplace is, in fact, found at home. Indeed ikumen are promising stars in this sense, but it is also evident that they cannot be shining stars without support from the companies they work for.

Work-life balance for unmarried people as well

This essay has discussed the issue of a work-life balance focusing on the child care and family care systems. It is natural, however, that this issue is not limited to the leave of absence for taking care of children or other family members. I would like to conclude this essay by mentioning that, since the right to not get married and to not have babies after marriage should also be guaranteed, measures for a better work-life balance including shorter working hours, expanded flextime schemes, and encouraging employees to take more annual paid holidays should be promoted among unmarried people and families without children as well.

Shozo Yamada
Professor of Labor Law and Social Security Law, Chuo Law School (Professional Graduate School of Law), Chuo University
Professor Yamada was born in Tokyo in 1948. He left the Doctoral Program of the Graduate School of Law at Chuo University, after taking all the required units, in 1981. He received his Master of Laws degree from Chuo University. He was a full-time lecturer on the Faculty of Law at Chuo Gakuin University since 1987; an Associate Professor for the same institution since 1993; an Associate Professor on the Faculty of Law at Chuo University since 1995; and a Professor on the Faculty of Law at Chuo University since 1996 before assuming his current position as a Professor in the Graduate School of Law at Chuo University (Chuo Law School) in 2004. He is also an attorney who belongs to the Tokyo Bar Association. Professor Yamada specializes in Labor Law and Social Security Law, and his primary research interests include job equality, English labor law, and pension systems. His major publications include: Sexual Harassment and Gender Equality in Employment [Sekushuaru Harasumento to Danjo-Koyo-Byodo] (author, Junposha); Equal Wages for Men and Women [Danjo Doitsu Chingin] (co-author, Yuhikaku); Anatomy of Labor Law [Rodoho Kaitai-shinsho] (co-author and co-editor, Houritsu Bunka Sha); Anatomy of Social Security Law [Shakai Hosho Ho Kaitai-shinsho] (co-author and co-editor, Houritsu Bunka Sha); Easy-to-Understand Pension Guidebook [Wakariyasui Nenkin Gaidobukku] (co-author, Houritsu Bunka Sha); Law School Seminar of Labor Law [Ro-suku-ru Enshu Rodoho] (co-author and co-editor); and Readings of Social Security Law [Ri-dyingusu Shakai Hosho Ho] (author and editor, Yachiyo Shuppan).