Gender in Japan Series Japan’s Work-Life Balance Reconsidered

Wednesday, 26 May 2021 | 9:00 - 10:00 (JST)
Zoom Webinar  登録はこちら
  • Machiko Osawa Professor Emeritus, Japan Women’s University
  • Sawako Shirahase TCJS Director

The Covid-19 pandemic is accentuating the gender gap and existing divides between regular and non-regular workers, large and small firms and various sectors of the economy. In my talk, I would like to discuss the impact of the pandemic on gender differences in Japan, and various factors that are amplifying these differences.

Japanese society is still organized around the breadwinner system of full-time male workers providing for their families while their wives focus on caring for the family. This gender division of labor and patriarchal ideology is embodied in the employment system of regular and non-regular workers in which women are disproportionately represented in the latter category, entailing disadvantages in pay, security and training. The assumption that women are supplemental earners confronts the reality where most households are dependent on both incomes and there is an increasing number of single parent households due to rising divorce rates. Moreover, the never married population is increasing. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the persistent gender division of labor as hundreds of thousands of working mothers gave up their jobs to cope with school lockdown measures and found it hard to return to work in the midst of a recession. In addition, women have lost jobs because they tend to be employed in sectors that have been hard hit by the outbreak. Teleworking offers the possibility of juggling work and home responsibilities, but this has been largely unrealized because many firms bar teleworking for non-regular workers and women are often in jobs that require a physical presence. Teleworking may not be a panacea but is likely to expand, raising questions about how this flexibility can benefit households and women’s career prospects.


Machiko Osawa holds a Ph.D in economics from Southern Illinois University. Currently she is Professor emeritus and specially appointed to the researcher, the Research Institute for Women and Careers at Japan Women’s University. She served on Advisory Boards of Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor, Prime Minister’s Gender Equality Bureau, and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. She is also author of various books such as Economic Change and Women Workers: Japan U.S. Comparison (1993, Nihon-Keizai Hyoronsha, Received Kagami Book Award), Economics of New Family (Chuo Koron Shinsya, 1998), Non-Standard Work in Developed Economies (ed. with Susan houseman, Upjohn Institute, 2003), Towards Work-Life Balance Society(Iwanami, 2006),and Work-Life Synergy (Iwanami, 2008), Japan’s Working Poor (Iwanami,2010), When Housewives Return to the Labor Market-Towards Second Chance Society (NTT Shuppan, 2012) What’s Holding Back Japanese Women, (Tokyo Keizai Shinposya, 2015) Women and Work in the 21stcentury, (Sayusya, 2018) Why There are so Few Women Managers in the Japanese Workplace, (Seikyusya, 2019).