Japan's demographic shrinkage has made the issue politically salient, but "womenomics" is coming regardless of government policy. The advance of women is a well-established trend across the developed world. In the U.K. for example, between 1971 and 2013 the female workforce participation rate rose 14 percentage points while the male rate fell by 16 points. The bull market in women and bear market in men are two sides of the same coin.
Like globalization, to which it is closely related, the phenomenon is recent yet driven by deep-seated changes in technology and economic structure that are probably irreversible. In the long-term, it may be the more significant force, since it has the capability to reorder not just social and economic relations but human nature itself -- in unpredictable, perhaps risky, ways.
The gender gap in pay may appear large on a snapshot comparison, but it is shrinking at roughly the same rate seen in Britain and France during the 1980s. The participation rate, meanwhile, has been rising sharply.
Industrial restructuring is rapid compared to cultural restructuring, which often requires generational change. To experienced observers, the recent -- and clearly misogynistic -- heckling of a female representative in the Tokyo city assembly was notable not for the incident itself, which was nothing new, but for the huge ruckus it caused at the national political level, resulting in an apology from Abe himself.
Meanwhile, Japan has been enduring its first "mancession," meaning a recession whose impact falls overwhelmingly on the male part of the workforce. As of June 2014, the number of women in work was comfortably above the 2007 figure. Over the same period, male employment declined by over 1 million and is showing little sign of recovery. Mancessions are likely to become the rule in Japan as employment in heavy manufacturing and other physically demanding activities declines further.
From the point of view of employers, Japanese women have the same appeal as Eastern European immigrants in today's U.K. They are well-qualified, diligent, optimistic and flexible. And as with immigrants, their effect on the wage structure is deflationary.
For tens of thousands of years, from the hunter-gatherer era to 20th century auto plants, men's physical advantages of strength, speed and ability to withstand discomfort have given them a privileged position. In complex modern economies with their dominant service sectors and emphasis on communication, these traditional attributes are rapidly losing value.
As society becomes more "feminized," it is likely that males will increasingly follow female marriage patterns, with status and economic value becoming key criteria in partner selection. Male doctors will marry female doctors, not nurses. High-flying executives will marry university professors, not secretaries.
Intermarriage among the cognitive elite has been blamed for the increasing prevalence of autism and will likely reinforce inequality and social stratification. One British evolutionary theorist has even suggested the human race may split into two, as predicted by H.G. Wells in "The Time Machine." The genetic upper class would be tall, intelligent and creative, while the underclass would consist of tubby, dim-witted goblins.
All that is far in the future, but it won't be long before the most pressing problem will not be integrating capable women into the workforce, but dealing with large numbers of useless, past-their-sell-by-date men.
(Peter Tasker for Nikkei Asian Review)