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Empowering Women Could Boost Fertility And Economic Growth

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Women in Japan and Korea face difficult challenges juggling career and family, from promotion delays after marriage and childbirth to division of household responsibilities to the availability of childcare.

Working arrangements are often not family-friendly. And the financial burden associated with raising children affects family decisions on whether to expand their families. Fertility has declined significantly, while at the same time large gender gaps remain in employment and wages. 

While the governments of Japan and Korea have acted to support women, including through enhanced childcare and maternity leave policies, more efforts are needed, say the IMF’s Kohei Asao, TengTeng Xu, and Xin Cindy Xu in a new Country Focus article.

“In Japan and Korea, policies aimed at closing gender gaps and progressively shifting cultural norms will help increase the growth potential, despite demographic headwinds,” say the authors. “They can also help gradually reverse declining trends in fertility, allowing women in Japan and Korea to manage having a family while pursuing fulfilling careers, and in turn, to contribute significantly to their economies and societies.”

The authors offer a number of recommendations that can help to remedy the situation. Reducing “non-regular” employment conditions, encouraging merit-based promotions, and facilitating job mobility can help support more employment and growth opportunities, leading to increases in labor participation among women and in turn, to productivity growth. The productivity gains could be further increased if complemented with measures to support career development and facilitate job mobility for women.

Further expanding childcare facilities and facilitating fathers’ contributions to home and childcare, including establishing stronger incentive mechanisms for paternity leave use, are also crucial. Facilitating a cultural shift in the workplace by expanding the use of telework and flexible work arrangement could also support increased participation by women in the labor force, the authors note. 

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