Japan’s falling birth rate: causes and counter-measures

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Is it easy to take maternity, child raising leave? graph of japanese opinionIn the middle of September, DIMSDRIVE Research surveyed its monitor pool to find out what they thought regarding the falling birth rate. 7,656 people successfully completed the survey. 42.6% were male, 1.0% in their teens, 16.0% in their twenties, 37.1% in their thirties, 27.8% in their forties, 12.9% in their fifties, and 5.2% aged sixty or older. Sadly there is no information regarding marital status.

I think that the lack of children is the biggest problem facing Japan, and one that needs to be tackled soon before it is too late. While of course Japan is overcrowded and in theory there is nothing wrong with a few less people around, the problem is that the whole population is aging and soon tax from full-time workers will be insufficient to cover pensions.

My own workplace does have decent support for both men and women; both can have up to three years (if I remember correctly) sabbatical for child-raising, and I know of a few women who have taken advantage of this, but as for men, well, for example a colleague’s wife gave birth and he took one whole day off for the day she got out of hospital. “Luckily” the baby was born on a public holiday, but I don’t think he has even decreased his usual working hours (by that I mean four hours overtime a night) since she got out of hospital.

First, some basic demographics.

DQ1: What is your occupation? (Sample size=7,656)

Full-time employee 35.5%
Housewife or househusband 25.0%
Part-time or casual worker 13.1%
Self-employed 6.5%
Unemployed 4.6%
Public employee 3.7%
Student 3.4%
Freelance 2.7%
Board-level 1.5%
Retired 1.4%
Other 2.6%

DQ2: How many children do you have? (Sample size=7,656)

None 44.5%
One 17.7%
Two 27.2%
Three 9.2%
Four 1.0%
Five or more 0.4%

Now the main questions.

Q1: Are you concerned about the falling birth rate problem? (Sample size=7,656)

Very concerned 25.8%
Quite concerned 52.2%
Not really concerned 17.4%
Not concerned at all 4.5%
Don’t know what the problem is 0.1%

Looking at the age breakdown, about two in five of the over-sixties were very concerned, and only about 10% had little or no concern at all, which does seem a bit odd as their age is the least likely to be affected by the problem. About a quarter of men of all ages under sixty were very concerned, but for women, almost 30% of those in their twenties and thirties were very concerned, but under 20% of those in their forties and fifties were.

Q2: If the birth rate continues to fall, what are your concerns? (Sample size=7,656, multiple answer)

Pension contributions, medical fees, etc will increase 76.7%
Personal tax rates will increase 72.2%
Population will age 65.4%
Size of the workforce will decrease 54.9%
Economy will stop growing or contract 40.8%
Society overall will lose its vitality 39.1%
Children will be spoilt 35.6%
Children’s sociality will decrease 31.5%
Population will decrease 31.4%
Other 1.5%
Nothing in particular or don’t know 2.8%

Q3: What do you think is the cause of the birth rate falling? (Sample size=7,656, multiple answer)

Cannot afford it 67.3%
Cost of bringing up or educating children it high 63.1%
Number of unmarried people has increased 62.5%
Trend towards marrying later 57.9%
Difficult to get workplaces to understand and cooperate, etc with childbirth and childrearing issues 47.1%
Age at which women have their first child 46.4%
Change in lifestyles 42.2%
Number of couples who don’t want children has increased 41.1%
Nuclear families increasing 32.9%
Decrease in neighbourhood mutual help, change in environment 32.1%
Working hours ecoming longer 24.6%
Other 4.8%
Nothing in particular or don’t know 1.3%

Q4A: What do you think are effective measures the country could take regarding the falling birth rate? (Sample size=7,656, multiple answer)

Build a society that is easy to bring up children it 70.3%
Build a society where work and child rearing can coexist 68.6%
Subsidies for education and child rearing costs 67.3%
Support for seeking work after birth or child rearing 55.3%
Increase the number of creches and other facilities 54.6%
Subsidies for fees for giving birth 53.6%
Other 6.2%
Nothing in particular or don’t know 3.9%

Q4B: What do you think are effective measures workplaces could take regarding the falling birth rate? (Sample size=7,656, multiple answer)

Make it easy to take maternity or child raising leave 77.4%
Establish workplace child-minding facilities 59.5%
Increase financial support during maternity, etc leave 59.1%
Shorten working hours 50.9%
Allow working from home 48.6%
Allow flexible working hours 47.6%
Allow starting and finishing work a few hours earlier or later 42.5%
Limit to office work only (no business trips or transfers, etc) 32.0%
Other 3.3%
Nothing in particular or don’t know 4.5%

Q5: Does your place of work have regulations regarding support for maternity and child raising leave? (Sample size=3,112, board-level and full-time employees, and public servants)

Yes (to SQ1) 62.9%
No 23.9%
Don’t know 13.2%

Q5SQ1: Is there an environment where it is easy to take maternity and child raising leave? (Sample size=1,956)

  Yes No Don’t know
All 41.5% 37.4% (to SQ2) 21.1%
Men, 20-29, N=105 25,7% 48.6% 25.7%
Men, 30-39, N=498 31.1% 48.2% 20.7%
Men, 40-49, N=535 32.9% 44.7% 22.4%
Men, 50-59, N=227 50.2% 31.3% 18.5%
Women, 20-29, N=143 32.9% 36.3% 30.8%
Women, 30-39, N=301 46.9% 36.5% 16.6%
Women, 40-49, N=93 43.0% 35.5% 21.5%
Women, 50-59, N=29 75.9% 17.2% 6.9%

One thing that is not clear from the above table is whether men are answering for themselves or for what they think the situation is for women, although I would hazard a guess that it is for taking breaks themselves.

Q5SQ2: Why is it difficult to take maternity and child raising leave? (Sample size=812)

  All Men
N=612
Women
N=200
Causes trouble for colleagues, etc 63.7% 65.0% 59.5%
Work atmosphere 50.4% 51.1% 48.0%
Salary may decrease during leave 47.9% 49.3% 43.5%
May be difficult to return to work 45.6% 44.1% 50.0%
May affect promotion chances 38.5% 41.2% 30.5%
Worry about how things would change on return 34.0% 33.0% 37.0%
No-one’s done it before 20.7% 19.6% 24.0%
Other 4.9% 4.7% 5.5%

Q6: Have you used maternity or child-rearing leave or other support measures? (Sample size=4,215, those with children)

Currently using 2.3%
Used in the past 12.0%
Not used any 85.7%

By age and sex breakdown, younger people were more likely to have used these company benefits, probably reflecting the fact that consideration for child birth-related concerns are relatively new features of the Japanese working environment. By workplace, just over a quarter (25.5%) of the public sector employees had made use of or were currently using child-care benefits.

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