Asia: where the PP applies most strongly?
The Economist recently ran a long piece on ‘Holding back half the nation: Japanese women and work’. It chronicled the challenge facing Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, as he seeks to change the position of Japanese women in the economy. Japanese women are amongst the best-educated in the world, but 70% of women who have children stop working for a decade or more, and many never come back. The economic participation rate for women is just 63%. Fertility is, predictably, low.
Japan and Korea are probably the most powerful examples of the PP at work, with exceptionally well-qualified women almost all of whom have poor career prospects. Mr Abe faces a tough knot of cultural and economic factors in his reform quest. Even those women who stay in, or those who do not have children, face barriers which are familiar to outsiders, plus some which are not. “Nominication’ mixes communication with nomu, the Japanese term for drinking. It refers to the Japanese habit of corporate drinking sessions which extend long into the evening, and at which colleagues exchange confidences. Women are apparently allowed to drink plum wine and dilute it with soda, but the tradition is not one that appeals to many of them.
I recently interviewed a Korean colleague, Hyun-Joo. She, a teetotal vegetarian, described how she had to take part in a dinner at a restaurant which specialised in dog meat, accompanied by regular alcoholic toasts. The corporation in this case? one of Korea’s most prestigious universities, where she was working at the time. Hyun-Joo found it too difficult to take, and actually left the restaurant – an act of courageous cultural defiance which didn’t do her career there any good at all (though she has made a successful one over here). This may be a slightly extreme example, but the cultural factors are powerful.
Very different in character, but with similar effects on women’s employment, is the Japanese practice of sanshoku hiruni tsuki – ‘3 meals and a nap’, the pampered life of the salaryman’s wife. This is being eroded by economic circumstances which may it more difficult for salarymen to sustain their wives in this style. On the other hand, the Economist reports a growth in the proportion of Japanese women who choose to stay at home. Perhaps this is simply because there are not the jobs out there for them.
All the PP factors are at play. The gender pay gaps in these countries are bigger than any other OECD countries, not surprisingly. Korea in particular has leapt up the educational league tables in recent years; like Japan, they may now be starting to think about the half of the nation that is clearly held back. It will be fascinating to see how they tackle the issue. It would not surprise me if in a few years we had lessons to learn from them.