Japan Table of Contents
Japan's work force grew by less than 1 percent per year in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1991 it stood at 62.4 percent of the total population over fifteen years of age, a level little changed since 1970 (see table 14, Appendix). Labor force participation differed within age and gender groupings and was similar to that in other industrialized nations in its relative distribution among primary, secondary, and tertiary industries. The percentage of people employed in the primary sector (agriculture, forestry, and fishing) dropped from 17.4 in 1970 to 7.2 in 1990 and was projected to fall to 4.9 by 2000. The percentage of the Japanese labor force employed in heavy industry was 33.7 in 1970; it dropped to 33.1 in 1987 and was expected to be 27.7 in 2000 (see table 15, Appendix). Light industry employed 47 percent of the work force in 1970 and 58 percent in 1987. The sector was expected to employ 62 percent by 2000. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, well over 95 percent of all men between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four were in the work force, but the proportion dropped sharply after the usual retirement age of fifty-five (by 1990 the retirement age for most men had risen to sixty). Women participated most actively in the job market in their early twenties and between the ages of thirtyfive and fifty-four (see Gender Stratification and the Lives of Women , ch. 2). The unemployment rate (2.2 percent in 1992) was considerably lower than in the other industrialized nations.
Wages vary by industry and type of employment. Those earning the highest wages are permanent workers in firms having more than thirty employees and those workers in finance, real estate, public service, petroleum, publishing, and emerging high-technology industries earned the highest wages. The lowest paid are those in textiles, apparel, furniture, and leather products industries. The average farmer fares even worse.
During the period of strong economic growth from 1960 to 1973, wage levels rose rapidly. Nominal wages increased an average of 13 percent per year while real wages rose 7 percent each year. Wage levels then stagnated as economic growth slowed. Between 1973 and 1987 annual nominal and real wage increases dropped to 8 percent and 2 percent, respectively. Wages began rising in 1987 as the value of the yen sharply appreciated. In 1989 salaried workers receiving the highest average pay hikes over the previous year were newspaper employees (6.7 percent), followed by retail and wholesale workers (6 percent) and hotel employees (5.7 percent). Workers in the steel (2.5 percent) and shipbuilding (4.2 percent) industries fared worse. The salaries of administrative and technical workers were about 20 percent higher than those of production workers. In the late 1980s, with wages in manufacturing firms having 500 or more workers indexed at 100, enterprises with 100 to 499 employees were indexed at 79, those with thirty to ninety-nine employees at 64, and those with five to twenty-nine employees at 56.6. The gap between wages paid to secondary school and college graduates was slight but widened as the employees grew older; wages peaked at the age of fifty-five, when the former received only 60 to 80 percent of the wages of the latter (see table 16, Appendix).
Workers received two fairly large bonuses as well as their regular salary, one mid-year and the other at year's end. In 1988 workers in large companies received bonuses equivalent to their pay for 1.9 months while workers in the smallest firms gained bonuses equal to 1.2 months' pay. In addition to bonuses, Japanese workers received a number of fringe benefits, such as living allowances, incentive payments, remuneration for special job conditions, allowances for good attendance, and cost-of-living allowances.
Working conditions varied from firm to firm. On average, employees worked a forty-six-hour week in 1987; employees of most large corporations worked a modified five-day week with two Saturdays a month, while those in most small firms worked as much as six days each week. In the face of mounting international criticism of excessive working hours in Japan, in January 1989 public agencies began closing two Saturdays a month. Labor unions made reduced working hours an important part of their demands, and many larger firms responded in a positive manner. In 1986 the average employee in manufacturing and production industries worked 2,150 hours in Japan, compared with 1,924 hours in the United States and 1,643 in France. The average Japanese worker is entitled to fifteen days of paid vacation a year but actually took only seven days.
Data as of January 1994
Japan Table of Contents