Efforts fail to improve low birthrate in Japan

Parents Makiko Nakamura holds a new born baby Soma on the first day of Reiwa era on May 1st at a hospital in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)
Parents Makiko Nakamura holds a new born baby Soma on the first day of Reiwa era on May 1st at a hospital in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) — The number of babies born in 2019 is expected to be about 864,000, dropping below 900,000 for the first time since statistics were first kept.

The government’s efforts to help working parents raise their children, such as by providing more childcare facilities to reduce the number of children on waiting lists, are failing to improve the nation’s chronically low birthrate.

The number of babies born in 2019 is expected to be about 864,000, dropping below 900,000 for the first time since statistics were first kept.

It has become important to not only establish a child-support system but also to create a child-friendly environment in society as a whole.

Work-Family Balance

“I want another baby, but I hesitate when I think about different things. My husband and I talk about this,” a Tokyo woman said.

The 38-year-old nursery school teacher got married five years ago and had a daughter in October this year.

“My workplace is understaffed. If I take leave to look after my sick child, it will overload my colleagues. My company has a system for time off, but I hesitate to take it,” she said.

The woman has more than 15 years of experience and is in a position to train junior staff. She is under a lot of pressure to balance work and childcare.

Her husband works in civil engineering and has irregular shifts with an unstable income. “I can’t imagine raising two or more children happily while my husband and I both work,” the woman said.

In 2004, the government formulated an outline of measures as a guideline for comprehensive measures to combat the chronically low number of births. It sets a goal of securing daycare spots for about 320,000 children in three years from fiscal 2018 to fiscal 2020.

In October of this year, the government made early childhood education and childcare free.

However, so-called family social expenditures, which includes childcare services and child allowances, accounted for 1.31% of Japan’s gross domestic product in fiscal 2015.

Meanwhile, Britain and Sweden, where the birthrate is high, spent more than 3% of their GDP in this area in fiscal 2013. The Japanese government aims to further improve the measures.

childcare Leave, Paid Leave

“The country is improving its support for child-rearing, and systems and policies are being prepared,” said Keisen University President Masami Ohinata, who specializes in childcare support. “But these practices have not been accepted naturally in society, so people don’t feel comfortable utilizing the systems.”

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 82.2% of working mothers took childcare leave in fiscal 2018 as a whole, but the percentage declines to 76.3% among mothers working in companies that employ between 30 and 99 workers. Moreover, only 6.16% of all fathers took such leave.

Last year, 52.4% of workers took annual paid holidays, although the government is aiming for a rate of 70% in 2020.

Hesitating to Marry

An increasing number of women want to continue working, Ohinata said.

“Many people are hesitating to get married because they have a strong image that housework and child-rearing are heavy burdens. It is important to educate children in the idea that couples are partners who respect each other and cooperate in life,” she said.

Currently, the number of marriages is on the decline, down from about 800,000 in 2000 to less than 600,000 last year.

And the number of births is heavily influenced by the population of women aged between 25 and 39, the generation to which the majority of children are born.

The population of women in that age bracket was around 13.2 million in 2000 and dropped to 9.7 million as of July this year.

According to estimates by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, this group will fall to about 8.1 million in 2040, and the number of babies around that time will decrease to between 620,000 and 830,000.