Fertility rate dips again

The first decline in Japan’s total fertility rate — the average number of children that a women is estimated to give birth to in her lifetime — in nine years may indicate that government efforts to salvage the low birthrate have not brought much of intended effects. Still, we should avoid the expectation that such efforts will bear immediate fruit to remedy the nation’s demographic woes in the first place. Policymakers need to maintain the steady implementation of necessary steps without being swayed by short-term ups-and-downs in the figures.

The birthrate had been inching up after hitting a historic low of 1.26 in 2005 — until it fell by 0.01 point in 2014 from the previous year to 1.42. In any case, the rate remains far below the 2.07 deemed necessary to maintain the population — a level that has not been recorded in Japan since 1973. Last year the nation suffered the largest natural decline in its population as the number of newborns hit a record low and the number of deaths rose to a postwar high — a reflection of the rapid aging of the population.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that the population’s downtrend will accelerate. It is seen likely that the number of newborns — which fell 26,284 in 2014 from the previous year to 1,003,532 — will dip below 1 million as early as this year.

Alarming demographic forecasts prompted the government last year to set a new policy agenda to fight the low fertility rate. The goal is to maintain the population at 100 million in 2060 — compared with 126.88 million today. Still, a long-term forecast compiled by the government shows that even with a sharp recovery in the fertility rate, the decline in Japan’s total population will not come to a halt until it stabilizes at around 90 million in 2090. Even if the fertility rate picks up, the pool of women of child-bearing age itself is shrinking so there will still be fewer babies born.

But the prospect that it’s going to take decades to halt the population downtrend does not mean that efforts to address the nation’s demographic woes should be abandoned. Policies already identified as remedies for the sluggish birthrate — ranging from measures to boost the employment stability of young people to steps to support working mothers and child-rearing — should be pursued as necessary investments to help maintain the nation’s social integrity.

The fertility rate declined as people started to marry late or not marry at all. On the other hand, various research shows that roughly 90 percent of the nation’s youths want to marry. Identifying and removing potential hurdles that discourage them from marrying young and having families — including unstable jobs and low income, as well as various costs associated with giving birth and raising children — will be the obvious steps to take.
One issue highlighted in the latest demographic data was what has come to be called the hurdle of the second child — that many women hesitate to have another child after giving birth to their first. The decline in the number of second children born to couples represented more than half of the total fall in the number of newborns in 2014 compared with the previous year.

According to a recent survey by an organization disseminating information about childbirth and child-rearing, 75 percent of married men and women polled replied that they face one or more hurdles that make them hesitate to have a second child — while roughly 80 percent of the respondents said they ideally hope to have “two or more” children. About 64 percent of working mothers who responded to the poll cited “reasons related to jobs” as hurdles for them having a second child. It is reported that many working mothers have reservations about taking a second maternity leave from work shortly after taking their first one.

Today, many young couples cannot live on the husband’s income alone. Employers need to create a job environment where working mothers can take maternity leave and then return to work without difficulty. Also important will be efforts to reduce chronically long working hours for many salaried workers so fathers can help out more at home with child-rearing duties.

It has long been pointed out that government spending on support for childbirth and child-rearing in Japan is far lower than that in other advanced industrialized economies — equivalent to a mere 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. It’s time that the government shift some of the resources out of the welfare spending now dedicated to the elderly population — such as by increasing the social security burden on certain wealthy retirees — and invest more in support for the child-rearing generation. But increased government spending alone will not be sufficient to raise the birthrate. Improvement in the work environment for both women and men will depend a lot on sustained efforts by private-sector employers, as well as on changes in the mindsets of workers themselves.

  • Ron Lane

    ” . . . removing potential hurdles that discourage [many] from marrying young and having families — including unstable jobs and low income . . . will be the obvious steps to take.”

    Must not be as obvious as the Japan Times editorial board thinks as just last week the Diet changed the law requiring companies to grant contract workers full-time status after three years of continuous work — a change that does nothing to help young people find those stable jobs with higher income. Jobs that would enable them to get married and raise families.

    Our government remains truly clueless.

    • skillet

      First, do not sign TPP. Push to re-vitalize Japanese agriculture. When kids have chores to do, there is a reason to have more kids.

      Reverse the rural exodus with a campaign to revitalize the family farm. Plus, self-sufficienct families is good for any nation.

      Japan still has plenty of land in rural areas.

      • Jean-Christophe Perrault

        Yes, this sounds like a good idea and not just for Japan. Today children are a burden on the family. They are expensive to have and to raise, they consume a lot of time and energy and they bring no financial gain like they used to in the old days when they could start working early. They of course bring a lot of joy but that doesn’t seem to be enough for people to have children. The tradeoff is just too high.

        Reversing the exodus of the family farm would be great but it will be really hard to convince any city person to go live there.

        I think people’s retirement should be increased by a fraction of the salary of their children. If you raise 5 hard working productive member of society, your retirement should get a significant bump. Those 5 children are really paying for everyone’s retirement and benefits.

        I know some people still believe that over population is a problem but it isn’t anymore. What is a problem is the possible extinction of the human race if we don’t have children and expand to at least a second planet away from earth.

      • skillet

        In the USA, it is becoming trendy to quit work and start a farm. I do not buy the depopulation stuff either.

        The vitality of the countries that fought WW2 and also industrialized after WW2 was incredible. It was because more people had contact with the land.

        I think it suits the interests of globalists for the people to be more docile and easier to controlled.

        Just put them in an artificial environment with lots of TV and pornography and you have a population that will not cause problems. But which will also be useless and dependent.

        Content to subsist on a welfare state.

      • Jean-Christophe Perrault

        Contact with the land is great but I just don’t see many people going to do farm work. It is very hard work and I have a hard time finding a few friends to go camping these days so I’m not sure how many man and women would actually go live there for a long period of time. (and I don’t think a couple of plants on the balcony count … I’m looking at you New Yorkers.)

        I don’t think there is a greater globalist conspiracy to “docilize” the world. I think we are making our world more confortable and its making use lazy and docile.

        TV, games, internet and pornography leads to a dying population as you can see in Japan so I do not think it is the end goal of anybody. We’re addicted to TV, we’re addicted to our smartphones, we’re addicted to internet, not much the government has to do with that.

        I don’t see how this could end well for humanity.

  • They need an army of robot daycare workers.

    • Jean-Christophe Perrault

      …An army of robot daycare worker, an army of women who want to have children, an army of men who want to have sex with those women… what they need is to be replaced by robot that actually do what human used to do. Welcome to human universe 25.

      • Do you think modernity in itself leads to this? is this an inevitable process?

  • Funnily enough I had mentioned to my Brother in a conversation some time ago that the Fermi parodox could be due to a leftist dildo “singularity” with aliens ending up as Nietzschean Last men over and over.

    ‘The beautiful ones’ – the mice who give up reproducing of course are these same ‘Last Mice/Men’ caring only about keeping themselves warm and fed.

    Groups like the Amish or Mormons(Utah has one of the highest fertility rates in the west) do offer some hope if they could be synthesised with modernity without destroying them, a mustard seed perhaps, however you could easily see them getting abolished by liberals for their “oppressive lifestyle”.

    • Jean-Christophe Perrault

      That is very interesting. I was having myself a conversation with my brother a few weeks ago where I told him that the Fermi paradox could be explained by a technological singularity and the birth of a virtual reality world which would finish off a lagging fertility rate.

      I really like your idea of a “dildo singularity” (not to mention the term is hilarious). Nitzche’s last man is a great explanation of what we are seeing today and it seems inevitable but I see the technological singularity arriving first (I think we’re very close, a lot closer than people think.)

      I hadn’t thought about the Amish and Mormon and I was surprised to see their fertility rates. I wonder if society will let them continue to live like this. I feel their oppressive patriarchal society might be a threat to the social justice warriors who will eventually attack them.