• The Associated Press

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Japanese parents are less likely to have more children than parents in other countries because they are expensive to raise and educate, an international survey conducted by the government says.

The Cabinet Office survey of adults in five countries found that only 42.6 percent of Japanese parents with children said they want more kids, painting a grim picture at a time when the birthrate is already at a record low.

Japan ranked lowest among the five nations surveyed, with 81.1 percent of parents in Sweden saying they want more children, compared with 81.0 percent in the United States, 69.3 percent in France and 43.7 percent in South Korea.

Nearly 70 percent of the Japanese parents cited the cost of parenting and education as the main cause of their reluctance, but it may also be due to the lack of social support, a government researcher said.

“The family allowance in France is ampler compared with Japan. The percentage of parents who take paternity leave in Sweden is high,” said Noriko Hirabayashi of the Cabinet Office. “It’s easier to raise children (in those countries) compared with Japan.”

The survey found that Japanese and South Korean fathers are less involved in child rearing than fathers in the three other countries.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents in Japan and South Korea said the mothers mainly look after their preschool-age children, compared with 45.1 percent in France, 36 percent in the U.S. and just 6.8 percent in Sweden.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the nation needs to make it easier for working parents to have children.

“It is important to set up an environment where parents can work while enjoying raising their children,” he told reporters last week. “We have no quick cures, but there are several proposals and we would like to look into them.”

The survey, conducted between October and December, covered about 1,000 people aged 20 to 49 in each of the five countries. No margin of error was provided.

Last month, members of a government panel agreed to study tax cuts to ease young parents’ child-rearing burdens as part of a comprehensive program to curb the declining birthrate. A policy guideline will be adopted in June.

Japan’s birthrate declined to 1.29 babies per woman in both 2003 and 2004, the lowest since the government began releasing birth figures in 1947.

The government began a five-year project last year to build more day-care centers, and to encourage men to take paternity leave and companies to ensure equal opportunities for women.