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 employee35.5%
Housewife or househusband25.0%
Part-time or casual worker13.1%
Self-employed6.5%
Unemployed4.6%
Public employee3.7%
Student3.4%
Freelance2.7%
Board-level1.5%
Retired1.4%
Other2.6%

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

None44.5%
One17.7%
Two27.2%
Three9.2%
Four1.0%
Five or more0.4%

Now the main questions.

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

Very concerned25.8%
Quite concerned52.2%
Not really concerned17.4%
Not concerned at all4.5%
Don’t know what the problem is0.1%

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 increase76.7%
Personal tax rates will increase72.2%
Population will age65.4%
Size of the workforce will decrease54.9%
Economy will stop growing or contract40.8%
Society overall will lose its vitality39.1%
Children will be spoilt35.6%
Children’s sociality will decrease31.5%
Population will decrease31.4%
Other1.5%
Nothing in particular or don’t know2.8%

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

Cannot afford it67.3%
Cost of bringing up or educating children it high63.1%
Number of unmarried people has increased62.5%
Trend towards marrying later57.9%
Difficult to get workplaces to understand and cooperate, etc with childbirth and childrearing issues47.1%
Age at which women have their first child46.4%
Change in lifestyles42.2%
Number of couples who don’t want children has increased41.1%
Nuclear families increasing32.9%
Decrease in neighbourhood mutual help, change in environment32.1%
Working hours ecoming longer24.6%
Other4.8%
Nothing in particular or don’t know1.3%

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 it70.3%
Build a society where work and child rearing can coexist68.6%
Subsidies for education and child rearing costs67.3%
Support for seeking work after birth or child rearing55.3%
Increase the number of creches and other facilities54.6%
Subsidies for fees for giving birth53.6%
Other6.2%
Nothing in particular or don’t know3.9%

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 leave77.4%
Establish workplace child-minding facilities59.5%
Increase financial support during maternity, etc leave59.1%
Shorten working hours50.9%
Allow working from home48.6%
Allow flexible working hours47.6%
Allow starting and finishing work a few hours earlier or later42.5%
Limit to office work only (no business trips or transfers, etc)32.0%
Other3.3%
Nothing in particular or don’t know4.5%

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%
No23.9%
Don’t know13.2%

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

 YesNoDon’t know
All41.5%37.4% (to SQ2)21.1%
Men, 20-29, N=10525,7%48.6%25.7%
Men, 30-39, N=49831.1%48.2%20.7%
Men, 40-49, N=53532.9%44.7%22.4%
Men, 50-59, N=22750.2%31.3%18.5%
Women, 20-29, N=14332.9%36.3%30.8%
Women, 30-39, N=30146.9%36.5%16.6%
Women, 40-49, N=9343.0%35.5%21.5%
Women, 50-59, N=2975.9%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)

 AllMen
N=612
Women
N=200
Causes trouble for colleagues, etc63.7%65.0%59.5%
Work atmosphere50.4%51.1%48.0%
Salary may decrease during leave47.9%49.3%43.5%
May be difficult to return to work45.6%44.1%50.0%
May affect promotion chances38.5%41.2%30.5%
Worry about how things would change on return34.0%33.0%37.0%
No-one’s done it before20.7%19.6%24.0%
Other4.9%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 using2.3%
Used in the past12.0%
Not used any85.7%

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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