Gender Isssues: Japan’s Daycare Dilemma

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 19, 2013    •    879 Views

By Lilli DeBode, guest blogger, Kent Place School alumna and freshman at Columbia University

In America, the thought of 4% GDP growth sounds miraculous. Imagine 14%. That is the amount of percentage points Japan could boost its GDP by if more women were to enter and stay in the workforce.

Japan’s debt is twice the size of America’s, and it is facing the infamous demographic problem (too many retirees and not enough workers to support them). This boost in GDP could immensely help their struggling economy.

The problem isn’t really women avoiding the workforce altogether; rather it is women leaving the workforce once they have a baby. In most cases though, women don’t want to leave the workforce– they need to because there is a shortage of daycare centers and nannies.

In Japan, it is nearly impossible to secure a spot for a child in daycare. In fact, a two-year waiting list is not uncommon for many daycare centers.

The daycare shortage has become such a problem that Japan has developed a point system for choosing who gets those coveted spots. Women who are single and less affluent get more points. This may seem fair, but in the Japanese childcare world, all women, no matter their marital or socioeconomic status, are pretty much in the same boat. There are simply no options other than daycare. Japanese culture still believes that men do not play a very large role in childrearing, so that takes the fathers out of the equation, and money cannot hire a nanny because the government makes it extremely difficult for immigrants to go into childcare services.

One solution Japan has been working on is robot nannies. One can only wonder how viable an option that is, but it seems like it would be a lot easier to just build more daycare centers. (Luckily, the government is working on that too).

Until robot nannies are invented, however, this shortage leaves new mothers with no choice but to take maternity leave and hope for nothing short of a miracle. Otherwise it’s just a matter of time before she loses her job because she simply couldn’t leave her child and come back to work.

Sources and resources: To listen to an NPR podcast on this topic click here. For an article on the daycare shortage click here.

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