2021 MHLW White Paper. Focus on Work and Life Impacts of the COVID Pandemic in Japan.

NOTE. This MHLW report, its summary and detailed sections are all available in English PDFs. They can be found here. However, the Ministry cautions readers that only the original Japanese report can be legally relied upon. As always, please seek out local Japanese Sharoushi (Labour Law Attorneys) help to ensure proper understanding and implantation of local labor laws and recommendations. For a basic understanding, we recommend using Google Chrome or any web browser that will machine-translate for you. We caution you in implementing labor practices based on such translations. 2021 MHLW White Paper. Focus on Work and Life Impacts of the COVID Pandemic in Japan.


This annual report is a very comprehensive review of data on Japan’s population, general welfare, and living and working conditions. It also specifically assesses the country’s social welfare / social security benefits and burdens and expenditures.

In the 2021 edition, more so than the 2020 edition, the COVID19 pandemic and its impacts are also addressed, along with the regular data on all of the report’s components. Not surprisingly, the pandemic impacts get top billing as can be seen by the report’s introduction and main index, as below – note that the report includes far more detail and supporting graphics:

A. Analyzing the impact of the spread of COVID-19 on our lives and how to deal with it by focusing on the following themes with comparisons to the Lehman Crisis in 2008:

  • Measures for those who have experienced a sudden drop in work and income 
  • Deepening isolation
  • Impact on women
  • Impact on children
  • Impact on medical and welfare services

B. Analyzing the role of social security systems during social crises with international

comparisons, and discussing five issues that have emerged through responses to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Crisis-resilient medical and welfare services
  • Implementation of digital technology on social security systems
  • Safety net to support diverse work styles
  • The creation of a society without burdens unfairly based on gender
  • New approaches to preventing loneliness/isolation and increased support

Key Report Findings

The report includes the following selection of key findings:

Work and Income

Early On…

  • Sharp increases in workers on leave, following a moderate rise in the unemployment rate 
  • Significant decreases in non-regular employees, especially women, and employees in certain industries such as “accommodation and restaurants” and “life-related services and entertainment”
  • The impact of the leave and working hours on child-rearing females is significant.
  • “Drop in sales and income” is the answer from many freelance workers in questionnaires.
  • Unprecedentedly large-scale financial support for individuals and households (much more than those in the Lehman Crisis)


  • The total unemployment rate has been reduced by employment adjustment subsidies and leave allowances compared to the time of Lehman Crisis.
  • Large decreases in overtime pay due to increased leave and decreased overtime work. Household income is less affected than in the time of Lehman Crisis, partly because of various financial benefits.

Changes in work styles and their impact on family life

  • About one-third of the workforce has experienced telework. Differences are seen between regular and non-regular employees.
  • The absolute amount of time for housework and childcare has increased due to self-restraint, relatively increasing the
  • burden on women. Men use the extra time created by telework, while women do housework in their spare time.

Impact of self-restraint on a persons life 

  • Self-restraint reduces opportunities for the elderly to communicate, which may lead to an increase in their cognitive decline or tendency toward depression.
  • Since July 2020, the number of suicides, especially of women and young people, has been increasing.
  • As more time is spent at home, there are concerns about increased domestic violence (DV) from spouses.
  • The number of marriages and pregnancy registrations in 2020 decreased. There is concern that the number of births will decrease due to the spread of infections.

International comparison of measures against COVID-19 

  • Massive Japanese financial support. Loans + government spending equal 45% of GDP, the largest in the world. Germany, the UK and France post 39%, 31% and 24% respectively. The USA and Canada each post under 20%.
  • The unemployment rate increased in countries focusing on unemployment benefits (the US and Canada), while it was suppressed in countries focusing on employment maintenance (France, Germany, UK and Japan) 
  • Japan experienced the lowest increase in unemployment – in fact, no change in its unemployment rate, hovering around 2-3%