In the 1990s, Japan's female labor force participation rate was among the lowest in the developed world. In 2013, recognizing the power of women's economic participation to mitigate demographic challenges that threatened the Japanese economy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed to adopt so-called womenomics as a core pillar of the nation's growth strategy. Womenomics — a concept coined by Kathy Matsui, chief Japan strategist for Goldman Sachs — is a policy strategy based on research demonstrating that closing the gender gap in formal labor force participation would counter Japan's aging workforce and boost GDP by 13 to 15 percent.
Analysis of the success of womenomics finds areas of progress but also persistent challenges.
A range of Japanese policies in recent years, including legislation to expand childcare and eliminate a tax deduction for dependent spouses, contributed to a sharp rise in female labor force participation while national unemployment fell to a historic low. Initially, the country's female labor force participation rate continued to lag behind that of peer nations, including other Group of Seven nations, and critics expressed skepticism that top-down political reforms would have a lasting benefit. By 2016, female labor force participation had risen to 66 percent, surpassing that of the United States (64 percent).
Closing the gender gap in formal labor force participation would boost GDP by 13 to 15 percent This data is not available for
Analysis of the success of womenomics finds areas of progress but also persistent challenges. Government policies to increase women's labor force participation have had little immediate effect on the strong cultural pressures that dissuade many Japanese women from staying in the workforce. Despite Japan's enactment of a fourteen-week paid leave policy — the standard suggested by the International Labor Organization — 68 percent of women quit their jobs upon marriage or childbirth. And although Japan offers one of the world's most generous gender-neutral parental leave policies, only 2 percent of fathers take any leave, compared with 83 percent of mothers. Those women who do remain economically active are significantly more likely to pursue part-time or irregular work, a practice that hampers their career development; even in 2014, only 1 percent of executives in Japan's top twenty companies were women. In light of these trends, the government has pledged to amplify policies to incentivize the use of gender-neutral leave policies, allow for flexible work environments, reform the tax code to reward dual earners, and combat workplace discrimination. The government has also committed to expanding access to childcare, pledging the creation of half a million new daycare spots by 2019. These efforts should help Tokyo better capitalize on the growth potential of womenomics and, if they are successful, could provide a template for other nations facing comparable demographic challenges.