During the recent recent Annual Meeting in Tokyo, the IMF released a paper with the grandiloquent title "Can Women Save Japan (and Asia Too)?". I say grandiloquent because the paper is a scant four pages long, with the below as the first page (the bolding is my own; I have also fixed the typos):
"It is very difficult for women in Japan to balance raising children and working full-time," says Naomi Nakamura, a 35-yearold physical therapist from Yokohama who is now on maternity leave looking after her four-month-old baby girl. "Many companies do not allow shorter working hours, and even if they do, female employees are often reluctant to work part-time because of the atmosphere at work," explains Nakamura, who also has a three-year-old son.This is a story of struggle? Nakamura Naomi of Yokohama could bicycle to work in 20 minutes? She sometimes had to take her son to childcare in the morning and pick him up in the evenings, though most of the time her husband would do the morning run?
For Nakamura, work, child rearing, and home are literally a balancing act. After her son was born, Nakamura was lucky to find a day care center near her job, but she still had a 20-minute bike ride to work with her son on the back. She tried to find an educational day care center for her son but, with none available, she had to put him in a center that provides only child care. She shopped for her groceries on her way home, putting the groceries in a basket at the front of her bike and her son in a seat on the back.
Like most Japanese fathers, Nakamura's husband works late every night, so she feeds
the children, bathes them, and puts them bed herself. She then cooks dinner for herself and her husband. They eat late at night and go to bed exhausted.
She struggled to find a child care center for her son and felt uncomfortable leaving the office early if the center called because he was sick. Before she went on maternity leave, her husband usually took their son to the center in the morning and she picked him up in the evening. But when her husband was on a business trip, which happened quite often, both tasks fell to Nakamura. "I feel very sorry for my colleagues who have to do extra work when I have to leave the office," she says.
Still, Nakamura feels lucky compared with her friends because her job skills are in demand. Many of her friends are being told they cannot have their old jobs back or are struggling to find part-time work because employers look askance at someone who may have to take leave to care for a sick child.
Nakamura's story is common to many women across Japan and in parts of Asia. their daily struggles balancing work and home are so daunting that many feel they have to choose between raising children and building a career.
This is not a story of struggle. For anyone who has lived in this blessed land for any period of time, this is a description of heaven.
As for the rest of the paper, it only barely escapes being so much intellectual kapok stuffing. One does learn one interesting fact:
Self-selection into non-career-track positions is another possible reason for the small number of women managers. this process appears to start early on, with gender ratios in top universities already showing divergence. At the University of Tokyo, for example, where entrance is based on test outcomes, less than 20 percent of the student body is female.I admit surprise at the gender-skew at Todai, if indeed this is the latest ratio.
It is also good to have some IMF-certified numbers to toss out when one needs some talking points:
- "In Japan, the size of the working-age population, ages 15–64 is projected to fall from its peak of 87 million in 1995 to about 55 million in 2050—approximately the same size as the Japanese workforce at the end of World War II."
- "If, over the coming 20 years, Japan raised its female labor participation rate from 62 percent to 70 percent—that of its Group of Seven industrial countries (G7) compatriots excluding outlier Italy—then its per capita GDP would be approximately 5 percent higher."
["excluding outlier Italy" – oh, how that phrase must make Richard Samuels smile (Link)]
It is hard not to use the word fatuous when describing the paper, when this is the final paragraph:
If Nakamura lived in Sweden, she would have the support she needed to "have it all," and wouldn't think twice about going back to her previous job after maternity leave. Making it easier for women like Nakamura to stay in the workforce will make it easier for Japan to remain a player in the global economy. Making the most of Asia's women is an equitable progrowth strategy that makes good sense."If Nakamura lived in Sweden..." – leaves one breathless, does it not, the presumption?
Going back to Nakamura's so-called struggle with childcare, the government in late September released the figures on the nation's daycare centers (hoikuen) and pre-schools (yochien) as of April 1, 2012 (Link – J).
The key takeaways are:
- while the number of children being born is declining, the number of children at daycare or in pre-schools is growing at a rate of 3% per year. In between April 1, 2011 and April 1 of this year, the total number of children in daycare and childcare facilities increased by 55,851 to 2,176,802.
- while the number of children attending daycare or in pre-schools is growing fast, the number of children on waiting lists to get into childcare facilities is declining. The total number of children on waiting lists nationwide on April 1, 2012 was 24,825, less half of the year-on-year increase in the number of children attending day care or pre-school.
- in between April 1, 2011 and April 1, 2012, the total number of daycare centers and pre-schools increased by 326, to 23,711 – again, increasing despite a year-on-year decrease in the total number of eligible children
- 23 prefectures reported having fewer than 50 children on waiting lists; 11 had no children on waiting lists at all. The numbers for the previous year were 20 prefectures with fewer than 50 children on waiting lists and 9 prefectures with no children on waiting lists (Link - J)
- the Tokyo Metropolitan District, where most foreign journalists and researchers live, remains the outlier in terms of unmet demand, with 7,257 children on waiting lists — 29% of the national total. Even in the TMD, however, there was a year-on-year decline in the number of children waiting for inception, there being 7,855 on the waiting lists in April 2011.
- in Nakamura Naomi's home prefecture of Kanagawa, the prefecture with the third highest number of children on waiting lists after the TMD and Okinawa, the number of children on waiting lists plummeted, from 3,095 to 2,039, in between April 2011 and April 2012.
So in terms of access to childcare, Nakamura Naomi of Yokohama does not need to move to Sweden. It is moving to her.
Later - More sauce.
A more leisurely reading of the government's September 28 report reveals that Ms. Nakamura's Yokohama not only was the municipality with the largest increase in the number of children entering daycare or preschool (+2627 children from April 1, 2011 to April 1, 2012) but the also the municipality with the biggest drop in the number of children on waiting lists (-792, from 971 on April 1, 2011 to 179 this April).
By contrast, Osaka City -- which has a certain famous individual as its mayor -- was the municipality with the greatest increase of the number of children on waiting lists, from 396 on April 1, 2011 to 664 on April 1 this year.