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Josuke Amada

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Survival through Feminization of the Workforce in Japan’s Declining Regions

Josuke Amada
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Social Science

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Changes in the industrial structure of Japan’s regions

It goes without saying that one of the biggest changes facing modern Japanese society is its falling birthrate and ageing society. If you visit Japan’s regions, where society is ageing at a rapid pace, you cannot but help feel the huge social impact of the falling birthrate and ageing society. I recently had the opportunity to talk with people at a small regional municipality in the Kansai region. According to the people I talked with, the main industry in the town is the care industry, such as medical care and nursing care, and most of the women living there work in the “care employment market,” which includes nursing staff and care-givers. In contrast, there are few job opportunities for men and the exodus of young men from the town has shown no sign of abating. Consequently, the expenditure of the younger generation had fallen in relative terms and the super-ageing of society has meant that the main consumers of the town are now ever-increasing pensioners. According to one town hall employee: “Work in our town comes from providing medical care and nursing care to the elderly and our local economy just about manages to get by thanks to the pension spending of the elderly.” As this situation shows, the reality is that the economies of regions with no major industry are supported by the “elderly-related market,” in particular the “elderly care jobs market.”

An explosion in the elderly-related market

The current situation becomes extremely apparent when you take a look at spending on social security benefits. In 1970, total spending on social security benefits was 3.5 trillion yen (0.9 trillion yen on pensions, 2.1 trillion yen on medical care, and 0.6 trillion yen on other welfare benefits). By 1980 the total figure had reached 24.8 trillion yen (10.5 trillion yen on pensions, 10.7 trillion yen on medical care, and 3.6 trillion yen on other welfare benefits), and continued to rise to 47.2 trillion yen in 1990 (24.0 trillion yen on pensions, 18.4 trillion yen on medical care, and 4.8 trillion yen on other welfare benefits), and 78.1 trillion yen in 2000 (41.2 trillion yen on pensions, 26.0 trillion yen on medical care, and 10.9 trillion yen on other welfare benefits). By 2014, spending had ballooned to 115.2 trillion yen (56.0 trillion yen on pensions, 37.0 trillion yen on medical care, and 22.2 trillion yen on other welfare benefits). We have now reached the point when the massive sum of 115 trillion yen is spent in Japanese society, and 56 trillion yen of pensions, 37 trillion yen of medical care, and 22 trillion yen of other welfare benefit spending is circulating in Japan’s municipalities. If we look at expenditure by age group, consumer spending by seniors aged 60 and older broke the 100 trillion yen barrier in 2011. It has been pointed out that this accounts for 44% of total personal consumption. Local economies without major industries are built on the “elderly-related market.”

Increase in unsteady work for female employees in the elderly-related market

In addition to the size of this market, there has also been continual expansion in the number of care-givers and nursing staff, who provide the backbone of the workforce that has been created from the explosion in the “elderly care employment market.” In fact, in 2000 the number of “care-givers” was approximately 550,000 and the number of “care staff and other staff” (which includes care managers and counselors, etc.) was 260,000, meaning the total number of care staff was 810,000. According to one estimate, as of 2015 the number of “care-givers” has risen to between 1.67 million and 1.76 million, the number of “care staff and other staff” has reached 810,000 to 850,000, and the total number of care staff has increased to between 2.48 million and 2.61 million. We have now reached the point where at least 2.6 million people work in the care insurance market, even according to conservative estimates. What’s more, in 2000 the number of nursing staff was slightly more than one million, but by 2012 this number had reached 1.53 million, and the number of nurses continues to increase. An approximate total for the number of care-givers and nursing staff currently working in Japan’s care employment market produces a figure that is well over 4 million.

In this way, local economies (to which globalization and Japan’s long-term recession have already brought bankruptcy at small to medium-sized enterprises and closure at local factories, and where local industry has been torn to shreds as a result of the decline in public works) are now supported by the massive “care employment market.” It goes without saying that because the focus of the care employment market is the elderly, local economies have come to be supported by the “elderly care employment market.” Moreover, because key workers in the elderly care employment market such as care-givers and nursing staff are mostly women, the elderly care employment market has created a huge female workforce in the regions. At the same time, conditions are often hard and pay is low for female labor in the elderly care employment market, and in many cases women are hired on a temporary basis, such as part-time work and fixed term contracts. The so-called “elderly care employment market” could be described as having created a vast female workforce in unsteady employment. In addition, while local municipalities’ economies somehow manage to get by thanks to the key consumer role played by pensioners, local economies are in a state of constant uncertainty about the future. The reality is that, although local economies experiencing an ageing society and falling population are held afloat by the elderly care employment market, the female workforce is forced to work in a vulnerable employment environment.

Survival through feminization of the workforce in Japan’s declining regions

Amid rapidly developing globalization and an economic recession that has come to be called the “lost 20 years,” local economies have been forced into major change. Nowadays, you see day service centers, home nursing stations, group homes, hospitals, and elderly health services facilities everywhere you look in Japan’s regional towns and cities. Supermarkets, restaurants, bars, gyms and pachinko parlors are overflowing with elderly patrons during the day. In this sense, in regions where the super-ageing of society continues apace, the elderly-related market has become a big business that supports the local economy. Moreover, it is overwhelmingly women who support the elderly-related market, and in particular the elderly care employment market.

In the regions, there has been a huge decline in the male blue collar employment market as a result of the decline in blue collar employment in local economies that have undergone industrial restructuring in an age of globalization and post-economic growth. In this sense, the male workforce in the regions has rapidly been reduced to no more than a skeleton workforce. This has led to a dramatic reorganization of the gender composition of the employment market in the regions over the past 20 years.

Despite the hard conditions, low pay and unstable work, employment in the elderly-related market (particularly the elderly care employment market) of the regions just about allows women to survive and live. As the super-ageing of society progresses in the regions, a phenomenon has arisen of “survival through feminization.” While women are able to survive somehow despite the hard conditions, low pay and unstable work brought about by the expansion of the elderly care employment market, it has become relatively more difficult for men to survive in the regions.

Now is the time for us to come up with a vision for a society that ensures the survival of any individual, at any time and in any situation.

Josuke Amada
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Social Science
Professor Amada was born in Saitama Prefecture in 1972. He worked as an assistant at the College of Society, Rikkyo University; Associate Professor at the Social Welfare Faculty, Kumamoto Gakuen University; and Professor at the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences at Ritsumeikan University, before taking up the position of Professor at Faculty of Letters, Chuo University in 2015.

His publications include: The Social Science of Being Ageing and Decline [Oi Otoroeyuku koto no Shakaigaku] (Taga Shuppan, 2003 -->[enlarged and revised edition], Taga Shuppan, 2010); Personal Freedom of/and Freedom of the Self in the Midst of Ageing and Decline—Theories of Social Science Practice and Practitioners in Elderly Care [Oi Otoroeyuku Jiko no/to Jiyu—Koreisha Kea no Shakaiteki Jissenron/Tojisharon] (Harvest-sha, 2004 --> [Second Edition], planned for 2015); Discovery of Being Ageing and Decline [<Oi Otoroeyuku koto> no Hakken] (Kadokawa Gakugei Shuppan 2011); and Theories of Ageing Society in Post-War Japan [Sengo Nihon Koreishakairon] (Seidosha, 2015 (planned)).

He has edited the following: eds. Josuke Amada, Kentaro Kitamura and Yoshitaro Hotta, Managing Ageing—the Policy and History of Ageing [Oi wo Osameru—Oi wo Meguru Seisaku to Rekishi] (Seikatsushoin, 2011); eds. Josuke Amada, Kiyoshi Murakami and Takanori Yamamoto, The Conflicting Point of Difference—Understanding Modern Discrimination [Sai no Keisoten—Gendai no Sabetsu wo Yomitoku] (Harvest-sha, 2012); eds. Josuke Amada, Yohei Kadosaki and Satoshi Sakurai, Histories of Regimes: Rearticulating Times [Taisei no Rekishi—Jidaino Sen wo Hikinaosu] (Rakuhoku Shuppan, 2013); and eds. Josuke Amada, and Katsunori Watanabe, Theories of Survival in Major Earthquakes (provisional title) [Daishinsai no Seizongaku (Kadai)] (Seikyusha (forthcoming publication), 2015); and many others.
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