Negligible rise in fertility rate

The nation’s fertility rate — the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime — has gone up, albeit slightly, for two consecutive years. But the population remains on a downward trend. The government needs to foster economic and social conditions that will make it easier for people to marry and have children.

Japan’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 1.26 in 2005, but rose to 1.32 the following year and reached 1.34 in 2007. The increase, however, was due to many women in their 30s apparently deciding to have a child before they turn 40. In 2007, 599,141 babies were born to women in their 30s, up 18 percent from the previous year, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

Overall, 2007 saw more deaths than births. While 1,089,745 babies were born that year (2,929 less than in 2006), 1,108,280 people died (23,830 more than in 2006).

There is a growing tendency in Japanese society to marry late or to not marry at all. In 2007 the average age of first marriages was 30.1 for men and 28.3 for women. The 2005 national census shows that the percentage of unmarried 30- to 34-year-olds was 47 percent for men and 32 percent for women — both about 10 points higher than a decade before.

Fueling this trend is an increase in the number of irregularly employed workers, such as temporary workers and part-timers, following deregulation of the labor market. These workers, who now account for one-third of the employed workforce, tend to put off marriage because of unstable employment and low wages. The government needs to take corrective measures to stabilize their employment and livelihoods.

The government has set goals of halving the number of employees who work more than 60 hours a week, getting more men to take child-care leave and improving child-care services to encourage 50 percent more women to continue working after having a baby. Success in this undertaking hinges upon gaining the cooperation of business and industry, and securing a sufficient budget for implementing policy measures.