TOKYO -- Japanese women's wages hit an all-time high last year, but they continued to earn far less than men.
Female full-timers made an average 244,600 yen ($2,157) a month in 2016, the third straight annual record, a labor ministry survey released Wednesday found. The figure was 73% of what men made, meaning the gender gap was the narrowest on record and had improved by 10 percentage points over the past 20 years.
Women made only about 60% what men did around 1990, with the disparity gradually diminishing since. Wages for female workers increased 1.1% in 2016 while pay for their male counterparts remained flat. Women's pay was over 20,000 yen higher than in 2006, but men's wages were about 2,000 yen less.
Employers in certain industries suffering from worker shortages as well as small and midsize businesses are eagerly hiring women and offering higher wages. In 2016, women in the transport and postal industries enjoyed 5.7% heftier paychecks, and females in the wholesale and retail industries got paid 1.8% more. While women's wages at big corporations edged up just 0.1%, their pay at businesses with workforces of less than 100 increased 1.2%.
Women had been working for 9.3 years on average, 0.1 year shorter than in 2015. But they accounted for a record 9.3% of section heads, department managers and other managerial positions.
"More women are in the labor force, and employers are starting to actively promote them to managerial posts," said Junko Sakuyama, chief economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
Women living alone used an average 88.8% of disposable income on consumption, far more than the 65.8% for their male counterparts, shows a 2014 survey by the internal affairs ministry. This suggests that increases in female wages tend to fuel consumption growth.
Despite progress in improving the pay gap, Japan is far from an international leader in this regard. A 2014 survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Japan's gap was the third-worst among member states after South Korea and Estonia.
One key factor in raising Japanese women's wages is help that allows them to continue working after having children. Six out of 10 working women leave their jobs after having their first child, labor ministry data shows.