According to the report released on the 21st of Feb. 2013 by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, the gap in the average earnings between full-time men and women workers in the country had narrowed consecutively during the last two years. The results show that women’s earnings reached 70.9% of men’s, and this was the second straight year that their earnings reached above 70% of that of male workers. The survey had targeted only full time workers, however, in workplaces with 10 or more employees and had examined only their regular salary, without taking into account of overtime pay and bonus. In total, 49,230 establishments had responded to the survey (“Danjo no kyuuyosa ga shukushou (narrowing the salary gap between men and women)” in Asahi Shinmbun, 22 Feb. 2013, morning edition).
Knowing how much lower women workers’ average hourly wages in Japan have been for a long time compared with those of men, I was surprised but content to note that they seem to be slowly but definitely gaining the ground in equality in pay. A long ago when I carried out a study in the ILO comparing hourly wages of men and women workers in selected manufacturing industries in selected countries for two decades (See S. Tomoda: Women Workers in Manufacturing, 1971-91, ILO, 1995), I was appalled to learn that Japanese women workers were earning only about 50-60% of what their male colleagues did, and even less than 50% in certain sub-sectors.
I realize that any statistical data have to be carefully checked and compared before drawing any conclusion. While noting that these studies were carried out entirely in different time frame, covering different sectors, I should stress that the survey by the Ministry examined only the fixed salary of full-time workers, while the study I conducted based on ILO’s Year Books of Labour Statistics considered all kinds of earnings of both full-time and part-time workers. I should also point out that a large number of women workers in Japan are employed as non-regular workers, including part-time workers, and they were not included in this survey. Furthermore, what should be stressed is that many non-regular workers in Japan work as many hours as their full-time colleagues do, without any fringe benefits that full-time workers are entitled to. So I wonder what kind of figures the Ministry would have obtained in terms of gender gap in pay if part-time workers working long hours had also been included in the latest survey.
Recently, I was also surprised to learn about another figure on gender gap in pay in another country. France 2, a French television station, reported in its evening news programme broadcast on the 8th of March that according to the data just released by the INSEE (L’Institute National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques), French women on average were earning 28% less than men were. I was astonished by this figure because they were earning about 77% of men’s in 1971 in terms of hourly wages in manufacturing and it increased to 78.9% by 1991. Considering these figures, I had imagined that their wages would have improved much further by now.
Statistical information is useful in obtaining a picture of a certain aspect of whatever it is supposed to portray. However, we have to be clear about what the figures stand for and how, where and when they have been obtained to better understand what is on the surface as well as the underlying reality.