National / Social Issues

Number of middle-aged, first-time fathers on the rise in Japan

by Sawako Obara

Kyodo

First-time fathers in their 50s or older are becoming less unusual in Japan, where the average age for marriage keeps going up.

Older fathers may get exhausted more quickly after playing with their kids and be burdened by worries about their age, health, and future after retirement. But on the positive side, they seemingly have more time and money to devote to their children than younger fathers.

Makoto Arakaki, a 51-year-old professor at Okinawa Christian University, has a 2-year-old daughter.

Since his wife, 33, who works as a junior high school teacher, leaving home before 7 a.m., it is his task to wake up and make breakfast for An.

“It’s quite exhausting,” Arakaki said while taking her to a day care center in the scorching summer heat.

Other than getting tired easily, he is also swimming in a sea of worries.

“Do other parents take me to be her grandpa? Can I stay in good shape when taking part in her school athletic meet? Can I make enough money to support her education? And can I live long enough to attend her wedding?”

The mandatory retirement age at his university is set at 65, but he hopes to work longer.

Arakaki married late. He opted to stay single to focus on his research in international relations. When An was born, however, everything changed, and he now puts An first, not himself.

“Things would have been different if I was younger. When I was young, I had so many things I wanted to do. I couldn’t have devoted myself to child-rearing,” he said.

“Now that I have gained some experience, I can give my all to An.”

Katsuhiko Hirasawa, 59, became a father when he was 50.

Hirasawa, a professor of business administration at Nihon University in Tokyo, said he was able to stay relatively calm when he had his first child because he had heard from friends about what it would be like to raise one.

In the meantime, a 60-year-old design consultant who is the father of a 9-year-old girl said he might be growing too soft.

“I can’t be strict with my daughter. I may be spoiling her,” he said.

According to a demographic survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the average age at which men become fathers grows every year and stood at 32.7 years in 2015.

The number of men who had their first child in their 50s totaled 3,357 in 2015, up sharply from 1,121 in 1995. First-time fathers in their 60s also shot up during the period, from 95 to 292.

The trend toward later marriage is gaining momentum as well. The average age for marriage in 2015 stood at 30.7 for men, the highest on record, and 29.0 for women, tying record for the previous year, the ministry said.

“For older men, it may be physically tough to play outside with their children,” said Tetsuya Ando, head of Fathering Japan, a nonprofit organization supporting child-rearing fathers.

“But they can likely spend more time with their families than when they were young, as they have more discretion in work,” he said.

Yasushi Oyabu, professor of developmental psychology at Waseda University in Tokyo, also pointed to the positive side of later fatherhood.

Generally speaking, older fathers can apply the wisdom and expertise they have acquired at work by supervising and developing young workers to the task of child-rearing, he said.