In the Jan. 1 Zeit Gist article, “Seeking life in balance,” writer Michael Hassett says some insightful things about policymakers’ responses to the birthrate decline. But he misses one important factor — the “rational decision-making” of women concerning their fertility. In cultures throughout the world, employment and increased education for women have been near-uniform consequences of modernization.
Almost as uniformly, educated and more economically independent women are likely to perceive marriage and child-bearing as lifestyle choices with opportunity costs, rather than as their tradition-sanctioned lot in life.
With increased economic independence, they are able to drive a harder bargain with parents, suitors, husbands and mothers-in-law about the timing of their marriage and child-bearing. And of course, without consciously intending it, many women delay marriage and child-bearing indefinitely.
Hassett is right to point out that we need to think of children’s welfare more when considering the work-life balance of their parents. But given the brute facts noted above, policymakers and common folk alike in Japan and elsewhere need to think more about a change in the sexual division of labor, which requires much more involvement of fathers in parenting as well as in household chores.