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Child-rearing costs blamed for Japan’s birth rate slump

Japan logged less than 800,000 births last year, the lowest figure on record
A father holds up his baby under carp streamers fluttering in a riverside park in Sagamihara, suburban Tokyo, on April 29, 2016, ahead of May 5 Children's Day in Japan

A father holds up his baby under carp streamers fluttering in a riverside park in Sagamihara, suburban Tokyo, on April 29, 2016, ahead of May 5 Children's Day in Japan. (Photo: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)

Published: May 29, 2023 07:45 AM GMT
Updated: May 29, 2023 08:01 AM GMT

Nearly three out of four working women in Japan cited the high cost of child-rearing as a major cause for the constant decline in the country's birth rate, according to a survey report.  

About 74.2 percent out of 554 women surveyed by research institute Shufu Job Soken said child-rearing is too expensive, and hurts the nation’s population growth, the Mainichi daily reported on May 25.

The survey, conducted between March 15-22, also found that 64.3 percent of respondents thought that "the burden of child-rearing is disproportionately placed on women," making it the second most serious issue related to child-rearing.

Other major reasons cited were — fewer jobs that are compatible with child-rearing (60.3 percent) and fewer people getting married (57.8 percent).

Japan recorded fewer than 800,000 births last year, the lowest number since records began in the country of 125 million. 

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research recently estimated that Japan's population will drop below 100 million in 2056. By 2070, it is expected to shrink 30 percent from current levels to 87 million.

To tackle the population, decline issue, the Japanese government under President Fumio Kishida has launched unprecedented initiatives as part of its childcare policy.

In March, the government announced that a lump-sum childbirth allowance will be increased from ¥420,000 to ¥500,000 (US$2,990 to US$3,560).

Keitaro Kawakami, a research adviser at the institute, pointed to the need to reduce anxiety about childbirth and child-rearing among women by creating better job opportunities.

"We need to create a society in which people who want to have children can make choices in accordance with their wishes without anxiety, for example by increasing the number of jobs that are compatible with child-rearing," Kawakami said.

However, the gender pay gap persists in Japan, with women earning on average around 22 percent less than men in comparable roles, as against ‘only’ 11 percent in the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The survey also had a single-answer question section that sought to find the relationship between the number of births and the employment status of women.

Around 52.9 percent of respondents stated that it was difficult to see a correlation, whereas 26.2 percent stated that "whether or not women work has nothing to do with the number of births."

"Women should not work in order to increase the number of births," was the reason chosen by 9.9 percent of respondents followed by “Women should work in order to increase the number of births,” by 5.4 percent.

The survey also had a free-response section which enabled the respondents to give their opinions on the issue of child-rearing.

Opinions such as "I don't think working prevents women from having children," and "Why do only women have to work and raise children at the same time?" were seen among the responses.

"Because there are not enough child-care facilities," was also a common response in the feedback given by the respondents.

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1 Comments on this Story
Cost may deter some couples but Japan-specific explanations ignore the fact that fertility rates are declining worldwide. Even countries with very generous support for child rearing have declining fertility rates. Finland, for example, has a fertility rate about the same as Japan despite generous subsidies and being top ranked in gender equality.
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