TOKYO – When she was pregnant with the first of her three sons, Chiaki Kitajima, an advertising executive here, said her bosses were shocked that rather than accept reduced hours and a demotion after maternity leave, she made a presentation on why the company should subsidize child care.
In a country where juggling work and family has long been especially difficult, Mr. Abe has pledged to ease the way for women like Ms. Kitajima, with more state-funded child care and other measures to foster “a society where all women shine.” Tackling the nation’s shrinking population and declining labor force by encouraging working women is part of his broader effort to re-energize the economy, which is looking especially unsteady after Japan unexpectedly fell into a recession last quarter.
But the gender gap in Japan is more pronounced. The national birthrate is just 1.4 children per woman, among the lowest in the world and well below the level needed to ward off a sharp decline in population in the coming decades. And when Japanese women do have children, they quit their jobs more often than mothers in other industrialized countries, leaving a hole in an already dwindling work force.
Mr. Abe’s most concrete policy moves have focused on child care, which is in short supply in major cities. His government is trying to eliminate nursery school waiting lists by creating 400,000 new spaces by March 2018. It is also working to loosen immigration restrictions that have limited foreign nannies and housekeepers. Read more…