Amid an increase in two-income households in Japan, the rate of men who take paternity leave is extremely low, and the availability of day care services remains insufficient. So who looks is looking after the children? The answer is often grandparents.
In step with this trend, some companies have introduced systems allowing employees to take leave to care for their grandchildren.
Yukiko Nikaido, a 58-year-old employee at Toho Bank in the city of Fukushima, is one such person who as taken “grandchild-care leave.”
She took one month off from late July to care for her 5-year-old grandchild and do housework when her 33-year-old daughter gave birth to another child. Her son-in-law works irregular hours and was unable to look after the children.
“I thought I had no choice but to quit my job when I learned that my daughter was pregnant, but I was lucky” to have been able to use the leave system, said Nikaido, who has worked 15 years at the bank.
In April, Toho Bank introduced a leave system in which employees can use accumulated paid holidays to take care of grandchildren. Since then, four employees have taken the leave and many others seem interested, according to the bank.
“The system is in more demand than we had expected. There might have been quite a few people who would have quit (to take care of their grandchildren) without telling us,” said a personnel department official at the bank.
At Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co., employees have been able to take a three-day holiday when a grandchild is born since 2006. In the past year, 870 employees have done so. Around 90 percent of the company’s workers are female and a third are 50 years of age or older. Many have grandchildren, and it has become common for workers to take such leave.
“I find it very easy to take leave and I feel so grateful,” said Chinami Hoshi, 51, who took grandchild-care leave for a second time last year.
Industry observers say companies are introducing such practices as a way to keep senior employees from quitting.
Municipalities are also encouraging the practice.
This past April, Fukui Prefecture started offering financial incentives to companies that introduce the leave system for grandparents, and so far three firms have done so.
Okayama Prefecture also has a similar system.
Observers note, however, that the trend really points to Japanese fathers not being engaged enough in child-rearing.
According to a labor ministry survey, only 2.3 percent of men whose wives gave birth during the past year to March took paternity leave. So when a working woman in Japan gives birth, it’s usually the grandmother who comes to help.
While it may provide joy for many to spend time with their new grandchild, grandparents can face physical and psychological stress in having to adjust the rhythm of their own life, observers say.
A survey by Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in 2014 found 54 percent of grandparents said parents should take care of their children, although they would accept the role if necessary.
However, some households, such as those with one parent, often need support from grandparents.
“It is desirable that not only grandparents but various people engage in child-rearing, and the whole community participates in raising children,” said Masami Ohinata, a professor at Keisen University.