Have you ever wondered why so many women in Japan become stay-at-home wives after getting married?
As a woman who grew up in a post-communist country, I was always encouraged to focus on studying for a future career. Thus, when coming to Japan for my master’s degree, I was quite surprised to find out that after marrying, many Japanese women become housewives. In this article, I would like to share with you some of the possible reasons behind this matter.
As with many other western countries, Japan struggles to overcome the male-dominated society. However, in spite of all the efforts to promote equal professional opportunities to women, many of them still choose to be housewives or to work part-time jobs. Although the number of women that attend higher education system in Japan has considerably increased lately, many of them will work only for a few years, usually quitting when they start a family or a child is on the way. The reason is that as women spend more time than men in housekeeping and childcare, it is especially difficult to have a full-time job at the same time. An old Japanese lady once told me that she never worked a day since she was in her early twenties and could not even imagine how it would be like to work a full-time job.
In Japan, married women tend to spend more time housekeeping than their husbands. This is mainly because full-time jobs almost always require overworking. Sometimes, a working day means 13 to 15 hours. Thus, the time married men spend doing house chores is less than one hour a week, while working wives spend as long as five hours a week doing housekeeping and childcare. A full-time housewife spends up to eight hours a week doing house chores.
After World War II, it was common that as soon as they got married, women were often forced to quit their jobs. One of the many reasons for this was that they needed time to care for their new family, or that work will alter their youth faster because of stress. Things have changed a lot since then, although long overworking hours made women prefer part-time jobs rather than a career path.
Often the reason for why women choose part-time jobs instead of full-time ones is that part-time jobs are much more women-friendly than the latter. For example, many women that work full time do not get past a certain level. This is because expected promotions never come, thus climbing the professional ladder becomes impossible. This creates the feeling of a glass ceiling that you don’t see, and women are stuck below it.
This glass ceiling concept is discouraging women to aspire higher positions. According to a recent survey, only 7.9% of working women in Japan are in presidential positions in companies, half of them getting there through promotions, the other half inheriting the position from a blood relative or husband.
Yes, for many women in Japan, the goal is to earn less than one million yen a year. Earning more than this means taxes and pension money must be deducted. Please keep in mind that an average full-time salary in Japan usually starts from 2.5 million yen a year. However, women who earn less than one million yen (approximately) a year get to keep all the money for themselves. Therefore, women whose husbands earn enough to sustain the family prefer to earn a smaller amount of money, usually to spend for the children’s after school fees, or as their pocket money. This is one of the reasons why women in Japan choose part-time jobs instead of full-time jobs, and why we can often see in work recruitment magazines for part-time positions the words “主婦大歓迎” which translates to “housewives are very welcome.”
With fathers working late almost every day, mothers have little choice when it comes to childcare. Unless they are helped by relatives, they will have no time for a full-time job, or for working at all. Moreover, it is considered that a child raised and always tended by a stay-at-home mother has an increased education and can get better results in school as the mother is always there to supervise and advise, therefore, the chances for the child to succeed in life are higher. Besides, spending the first few years of the children together and bonding with them is one of the best times in a mother’s life, so who would want to miss that anyway?
Sure, being alone at home all day and doing all the house chores and childcare can be difficult and sometimes boring. But many women prefer it to be this way to keep the stress of a full-time job away. Moreover, due to the long overworking hours mentioned above, having both parents working for so long every day could create a dysfunctional family. Therefore, if money does not present a problem, there is no need for both parents to work full time.
Being a woman can be challenging even in today’s society. Lately, more and more women have an active role in society and in developing a professional career. However, it is difficult to make life choices between a successful career or a family when there are so many points of view. It is easy to be judged as an undedicated mother when choosing to be professionally successful. It is also easy to be judged as lazy when choosing to be a stay-at-home wife in a world that aspires to give equal professional opportunities to women.
If you were a woman in Japan, would you be happy? Would you choose the career path or a part-time job? Or would you rather prefer to stay at home, caring for your family? What would you change about Japan’s way of dividing time for work and family? What about your own country’s situation?