Japan's economy to gain from removing STEM barriers for women

Japan's economy to gain from removing STEM barriers for women

IMF study highlights potential 20% productivity boost by eliminating gender-based obstacles in STEM fields.

Japan's productivity growth could see an impressive 20% increase if gender-based barriers were eradicated particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), despite Japan's ageing population, the nation has managed to achieve notable per capita growth, with the increase in female labour participation. 

However, Rui Xu, economist from the IMF's Monetary and Capital Markets Department, suggested that the country's economy could benefit even further by encouraging more women to enter STEM fields.

Currently, a mere 7% of female university students in Japan specialise in STEM subjects—a stark contrast to their male counterparts and to female students in other countries. This disparity is largely due to barriers that discourage women from pursuing careers in these fields.

According to Xu, "My paper shows that Japan's economy would gain even more by encouraging women to pursue studies in STEM fields... the productivity growth in Japan could be accelerated by 20%." 

She said that this potential boost is attributed to the increased innovation and technological advancement that would result from a more gender-diverse workforce in STEM.

The key obstacles facing women in Japan are multifaceted, encompassing explicit gender pay gaps, workplace discrimination, and disproportionate family care burdens. 

“A rough measure by the OECD shows that Japan has the second highest gender pay gap among industrialised countries,” Xu said.

She explained that workplace discrimination, particularly against pregnant women or those with family care responsibilities, further exacerbates the issue, alongside societal expectations for women to prioritise family over career.

For explicit pay gaps, Xu suggested legislation to enforce equal pay for equal work, a measure where the Japanese government has made progress. However, tackling the more nuanced aspects of the gender pay gap—stemming from women's self-selection into more flexible, less demanding jobs—demands broader societal and governmental efforts. 

Recommendations include reducing excessive work hours, adopting telework, merit-based hiring and promotion in STEM fields, providing affordable childcare, and encouraging shared household responsibilities among family members.

"Companies in STEM fields should make hiring and promotion decisions based on merit instead of seniority," Xu emphasised, highlighting the importance of allowing women to return to their careers post-childbirth without penalty. 

Additionally, the implementation of quotas at universities could help normalise female participation in STEM, contributing to a more balanced and innovative workforce.

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