Japan’s PM to women: Go to work!

A plan to bolster Japan’s economy and shrinking workforce has Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asking his government to help women return to work. An aging workforce and low birthrate is expected to result in a working-age population of just 55 million by 2050, down from 87 million in 1995.

Two-thirds of Japanese women apparently stay home after the birth of their first child, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times, and most do not return. Although it’s illegal to do so, some Japanese companies even encourage women to leave their jobs once they become mothers.

Prime Minister Abe’s plan aims to offer financial incentives to companies that hire and elevate women in business. It would also promote maternity leave and expand public child care centers. Japanese law guarantees pregnant women six weeks of leave before birth and eight weeks after, and some companies allow up to three years of maternity leave, according to the Times article.

Women holding full-time jobs in Japan earn about 71 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to a 2010 report. U.S. women earn about 81 cents for every dollar males earn.

If women were employed at the rate of men, Japan’s aging workforce could see a boost of 8 million workers, but despite the initiatives, change is expected to be slow. Parental care is also a concern, as Japanese women typically care for their children as well as aging parents.