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Economy

Ratio of working women jumps to record in Japan

Labor shortage forces employers to be more flexible with hours

More Japanese women are now balancing jobs and child care as labor shortages deepen.

TOKYO -- More than three-quarters of Japanese women of prime age to start families are now in the workforce, signaling a break from the long-running trend of mothers quitting jobs to care for newborn babies.

A record 75.7% of women between the ages of 25 and 39 held jobs in 2017, up 5.9 percentage points from 2012, according to a survey by the Internal Affairs Ministry. Confronted by a labor shortage, companies are offering flexible hours, enabling mothers with small children to hold on to their jobs.

At the same time, the survey found that more than 30% of women with part-time positions purposely curtail their hours to take advantage of the special tax deduction for housewives.

The ministry conducts its labor survey once every five years. This time, 1.08 million people in 520,000 households nationwide were interviewed to make estimates for the entire population.

In the 15-to-64 age group, a record 68.5% of women held jobs, a 5.4 percentage point increase from 2012.

Women in the 25-to-39 age group have typically left the labor force to raise children, so their share in the workforce has been smaller than that of other age groups, creating a graph that looks like an "M." In the 2017 survey, the percentage of working women while raising children rose in all age groups, with the "M" curve looking designed to disappear.

Older people are also staying in the workforce.

Among men, 79.9% ages 60 through 64 had jobs, an increase of 7.2 points from 2012 and approaching the 83.3% figure for males ages 15 through 64. Working until reaching in their mid-60s appears to have become the norm for Japanese men.

The percentage of working men ages 65 through 69 also increased 7.3 points from 2012.

Among people with part-time jobs, 26.2% are intentionally opting for fewer hours, but the breakdown is striking: 14.2% among men and 31.7% among women. In annual income, 49.6% of these part-time workers earn 500,000 yen to 990,000 yen ($4,450 to $8,820), while 32.9% take home 1 million to 1.49 million yen.

Part-time working spouses can take advantage of a special tax deduction. In 2017, these deductions declined in a stepwise fashion for income in excess of 1.03 million yen, and many workers adjusted their hours to stay under that cap.

In 2018, the tax regulation regarding the special deduction for spouses was revised, raising the cap to 1.5 million yen. But many companies still will not give a spousal allowance to employees whose wives are earning more than 1.03 million a year.

Another factor keeping part-timers from working more hours is the fact that companies with 501 or more employees require their employees to pay premiums for social insurance if they make more than 1.06 million a year. That will need adjusting to encourage more work by spouses.

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