I confess I’d never heard of womenomics before, but an interesting piece in last weekend’s Financial Times put me right. It’s based on a profile of Miho Otani, a Japanese woman who commands a 3500 tonne warship.  She is intended to represent Prime Minister Abe’s drive to have women occupy 30% of the country’s management position by 2020 .  (‘Abenomics’ was coined to describe the PM’s economic strategy, hence the fellow-neologism.)  The initiative, apparently, stands little chance of reaching its target.

In a way Japan, with Korea, encapsulates the Paula Principle more than any other country.  Japanese women are highly educated.  Young Japanese women enter the labour market in large numbers.  But their career patterns show how poorly used their competencies are, at least as measured by pay.

The first chart below shows that some progress has been made on the overall gender pay gap in Japan.  It shrunk by about six points in the first decade of the century;  but it remains very high by international standards.

The second pair of charts tell a story that is both very simple and quite complex.  On the one hand in Japan, as elsewhere, the pay gap increases very significantly as people get older.  This is well-known, crucial but very often overlooked in the discussion.  I guess we could say ‘intersectionality’ is at play here – i.e. age combines with gender to magnify the effects. But Panel A presents only cross-sectional data.  Older women have fewer qualifications, especially in a society such as Japan where women’s education has progressed so quickly in recent decades.  So we would expect a big difference in the pay gap between different age groups.

This is where Panel B introduces interesting information.  It compares the position for the same cohort, at two different time points.  The cohort was born in the first years of the 1970s, and the pay gap was measured when they were in their late 20s and again when they were in their 30s.    As young women starting out on their careers they experienced a sizeable gap but one that was not that much above the OECD average (and well below some countries from eastern Europe).  But ten years on Japanese women, along with their Korean counterparts , experience the highest pay gap of all OECD countries.


Commander Omani is obviously making her way in what would be a very tough environment in any culture or country.  The territorial tensions in the Pacific area are hotting up, with very real possibility of maritime clashes.  She is in a very big job.  She may not have many female equivalents in other parts of her country’s economy.





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