Japan’s Stagnant Economy and Mishandled Gender Reform

David Robinson

Japan has fallen into its second recession in as many years, which seems to be a trend it has fallen into since the bursting of its bubble economy. Of further concern is how its population is aging while shrinking. It is commendable Japan has managed to keep its unemployment rate at roughly 3%, but it has done so by increasing the occurrence of part-time employment, of which 90% are comprised by women. Women have been given greater roles in the workforce as of late than has been allowed during the earlier phases of Japan’s modernization, but while this may seem like a progressive step, Japan has far from embraced gender equality. In fact, this course of action is hurting its economy far more than helping, for their intense devotion to work is undermining Japan’s raising of families and the cultivation of the next generation, by both men and women. Everybody is expected to devote themselves to their work, and women in Japan are not exempt from the undue societal pressure to work long hours and devote themselves to work over living, or alternatively devote themselves wholly to just being a housewife. The assumption that once women marry, they will leave for childrearing discourages hiring women. Alternatively this discourages women from marrying and having families altogether.

The logo (L) of NTT DATA Corporation is displayed in Tokyo on March 28, 2016. Japan's NTT Data said on March 28 it had agreed to buy computer giant Dell's IT service operations for 3.0 billion USD in a bid to expand in North America. / AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGIKAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images
NTT DATA Corporation displayed in Tokyo | March 28, 2016 (Getty Images)

The dismal state of work/life balance in Japan only exacerbates this issue. And while companies, like NTT, have taken measures to improve this by offering things like flextime and childcare services to allow for some semblance of a balanced livelihood, it is far from standard. And this should occur across the board, not just in regards to women. One of the issues is that Japan traditionally seems to expect childrearing to be undertaken solely by the wife, but that scenario is unfair. Consider Rawls’s ethical theory of justice, which argues that equality of opportunity indicates fairness. For this to occur, companies should therefore treat all employees, regardless of age or gender with the equal opportunity to live a life that allows them to both enjoy themselves and undertake parenthood. This should occur not only for the sake of worker happiness, but also for the benefit of Japan as a whole. Despite the utilitarian means, such as their postwar surge in growth, which has established the cultural norms regarding Japan’s business, it does not ethically allow women in the society even remotely the same opportunity for decision making. Given the slow rate with which changes occur within Japanese companies, however, it seems this will take significant time for proper adoption (Hagihirian). But Japan lacks the time for that to develop naturally, and as a bigger issue, corporations have been hoarding money due to their lack of faith in available investment opportunities. They are sitting on a value equal to $2.9 trillion, and it goes without saying how that amount could benefit their economy, with its current growth rate of a mere 0.5% (Back).

Japan’s aging society is also straining its economy with the pressures of social security. Their debt is almost thrice their GDP, and a significant portion of their youth is either unwilling or unable to find work. The country is in a dire situation where the most feasible long-term solution is resolving the issue of their low birth rate of 1.41. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems to take no interest in opening immigration, but that leaves the only alternative as promoting marriage in a healthy feasible way. Belgium and France faced similar issues and managed to increase their birth rates up marks of 0.3-0.4 by enacting reform that provides women equal opportunity in the workforce, and equal treatment for childrearing. The Japanese people are not marrying. Many women, given some semblance of financial independence have found they prefer either waiting to marry or simply not marrying altogether. Instead of raising children for an oft-absent husband, they live for themselves, since raising a family inhibits their personal liberties in ways they should by no means put up with (Hagihirian). What saved Japan after WWII has now come to hurt it. The standard of lifetime employment, still common at many Japanese companies, unfairly rewards employees simply for aging, which wastes a significant portion of revenue while harboring inefficiency of operation. The fiscal policy laid out in the prime minister’s “Abenomics” is a last ditch effort to increase government spending and increase consumer purchases to jumpstart the economy, but it will not benefit Japanese citizens much if they cannot prove signs of extended growth (WSJ-N/A-11/17). The pressure it is putting on companies is also facilitating a detrimental scenario, like in the recent Toshiba scandal. Their malfeasance was a byproduct of a utilitarian pressure to turn profit, to be a last bastion of hope in the sinking ship of their economic downturn (Nagata). Compare this to US companies like Enron and WorldCom whose misdeeds were driven solely by greed, and while that may also have been the case with Toshiba, it seems they were more concerned with the positive outcome of looking good amongst Japan’s poor economic standing. If they could maintain their ruse, perhaps the country will retain investors and eventually recover. Instead it has torn down any evidence of hopefulness for Japan’s economy to recover of its own accord. Their economy has reached a point of stagnancy where actions further than they seem willing to put forth must be taken for any positive, discernible effect to be made.


Pressure to Show Profit Caused Toshiba Scandal.” Kazuaki Nagata. Fortune. Sep. 18, 2015. Web. Nov 20, 2015.

Why Japan Keeps Falling Into Recession.”  Aaron Back. Wall Street Journal. Nov. 16, 2015. Web. Nov 20, 2015.

Abenomics Sputters in Japan.” N/A. Wall Street Journal. Nov. 17, 2015. Web. Nov 20, 2015.J-Management. Parissa Hagihirian. iUniverse. 2009. Print.



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