THE POORER SEX: 1 in 3 single women 'relatively poor' in Japan

December 09, 2011

By SATOMI SUGIHARA / Staff Writer

Research shows that one in three single women of working age in Japan is "relatively poor," a finding that will likely give the government a huge financial headache in years to come.

The relative poverty rate for single women is expected to grow in coming decades. It is projected that one in five women in Japan will be single in 2030.

The relative poverty rate is the ratio of household members with lower than half of the median of equivalent disposable income.

Half of the median of equivalent disposable income was 1.14 million yen ($14,700) in 2007. Disposable income is defined as total personal income minus taxes and social security premiums.

Studies by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research show that 32 percent of single working women between the ages of 20 and 64 in 2007 were at or below the relative poverty level. The comparable figure for women 65 or older was 52 percent. The percentage jumped to 57 percent for single mothers with children aged 19 or younger.

Aya Abe, director of the Department of Empirical Social Security Research at the institute, led the research based on the comprehensive survey of living conditions in 2007 by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The research found that 57 percent of those in relative poverty in 2007 were women.

Analysts believe a major factor behind the trend is that a growing number of women are employed as temporary workers and have little job security.

Abe called for the creation of a social security system that allows women to achieve a decent living standard even if they remain single.

"The relative poverty rate for women will go up as their age rises," Abe said. "As the ratio of women who will stay single is forecast to increase in the future, a social security system built on the premise that women will marry clearly no longer works."

In 2010, about 12.18 million women, or 54 percent of the female work force, were non-regular employees. The figure for men was 5.39 million, or 19 percent of the male work force.

Female workers tend to be confined to that status, according to Emiko Takeishi, a professor of woman's labor at Hosei University.

The government has long encouraged women to work as dependents of their husbands, such as part-time workers, by offering various incentives under the taxation system and national pension program.

Marriage effectively provided social security for women with low incomes under these arrangements.

But with job security for men also increasingly eroding, marriage no longer seems to spell security for women.

According to a survey in September by O-net Inc., a marriage agency in Tokyo, 68 percent of 900 single men in their 20s through 40s replied that they want to eventually get married.

The number of men in their 30s who gave the same answer was down more than 10 percentage points from the previous survey five years ago.

But 60 percent of the men polled said that having a girlfriend or getting married is difficult with their current salaries.

For young single women, low income levels could be translated into dire economic straits when they get older.

As of the end of fiscal 2009, 2.61 women in Japan received less than 40,000 yen in monthly pension payments.

According to an estimate by the ministry, if a woman starts receiving welfare benefits when she is 25, she would be paid more than 100 million yen in her life, 13 million yen more than a man under similar circumstances.

Having a large number of women in relative poverty would affect the national budget significantly as it translates into falling tax revenues and higher welfare payouts and other assistance.

By SATOMI SUGIHARA / Staff Writer
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Women, citing fragile job security, protest the law on the employment of temporary workers near the Diet building in Tokyo on Nov. 29. (Satoru Semba)

Women, citing fragile job security, protest the law on the employment of temporary workers near the Diet building in Tokyo on Nov. 29. (Satoru Semba)

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  • Women, citing fragile job security, protest the law on the employment of temporary workers near the Diet building in Tokyo on Nov. 29. (Satoru Semba)

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