More than 80 percent of major firms saw male employees take child-care leave of less than three months over the past year while female employees got longer leave times, a recent Kyodo News survey showed, underscoring the dominant role women continue to play in child-rearing in Japan.
In the survey that covered 113 companies between November and December, around half of them reported in their securities filings that at least 80 percent of their male employees took paternity leave, regardless of the length.
But on the duration of such leave taken, the largest group of 47 percent said the average length per child was "one month to less than three months," followed by 25 percent who said "two weeks to less than one month."
About 13 percent said the leave averaged "five days to less than two weeks," 4 percent answered "three months to less than six months," while 2 percent said "less than five days."
In contrast, female workers took much longer leave times, with 51 percent of the surveyed companies seeing them take an average leave of "12 months to less than 18 months," and 27 percent standing at "six months to less than 12 months."
Eight percent said the leave lasted "18 months or more," while 4 percent said it was "less than six months."
Asked about the challenges female employees face after taking longer child-care leave than males, with multiple answers allowed, 59 percent of the firms cited lagging career advancement, 30 percent said restrictions in work hours and 19 percent delays in pay rise.
In Japan, a worker can, in principle, take child-care leave until the child reaches 1 year of age, and it can be extended until the child turns 2 years old depending on the situation. Separately, a father can take up to four weeks of leave within eight weeks after the child's birth.
Since April last year, companies with more than 1,000 employees have been obliged to disclose once a year the percentage of male employees who took child-care leave.
Experts say paternity leave is important in equalizing the burden of household chores and child-rearing between couples as well as in helping women to continue working and motivating them to have more children in Japan, which is struggling with a rapidly declining birthrate and shrinking population.
"Women's careers are affected if they are absent from work for a long time," said Toshiyuki Tanaka, an associate professor at Otsuma Women's University with expertise on gender issues.
"It is desirable that parents take their leaves in a way that it won't only be women who take the longer one," he said.
Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., a property insurance subsidiary of Tokio Marine Holdings Inc., said the percentage of male workers who took child-care leave was 100 percent in fiscal 2022, but the average length was less than five days.
"We will strive to ensure that all our employees can take their leave for as long as they need," the company said, adding that more workers are taking leave of five days or longer in the current fiscal year.