Overcoming Japan’s Birth Rate Crisis | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
birth rate declining

Overcoming Japan’s Birth Rate Crisis

By Afia Ibnat Mar 1, 2023

The declining birth rate, in combination with one of the highest life expectancies in the world have set in motion a series of challenges for Japanese politicians. Growing pressure on the working-age population, reduced economic growth and labour shortages have the potential to dismantle Japanese society.  

Existing Policies Are Failing to Increase Birth Rates

failing policies

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The government has implemented multiple initiatives, including the Angel Plan, the New Angel Plan and the Plus One Policy. These policies have focused on improving the employment environment to reconcile work and family responsibilities, enhancing childcare services, strengthening maternal and child health facilities, and improving housing and public facilities for families with children. Additionally, they targeted the promotion of child development and improving the educational environment for children, along with easing the economic cost associated with child-rearing.

The Japanese government is taking steps to address the declining birth rate in the country by offering an extra 80,000 yen to couples who have a baby. However, this effort has been met with criticism, as some argue that the amount offered is not enough to overcome the financial challenges faced by families, including rising prices and stagnant incomes. 

Currently, new parents in Japan receive a one-time payment of 420,000 yen when a child is born. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare have proposed raising this amount to 500,000 yen and it is expected that this change will take effect on April 1, 2023, at the start of the next fiscal year. 

Several local governments, regional governments, and the national government have all offered incentives to encourage people to start more families, including providing cars and rent-free houses to rural areas most severely affected by population loss. However, the majority of these initiatives have merely made financial promises. While these policies sound good on paper, they have done little to increase the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Japan. Many believe that simply increasing financial incentives have been tried in the past and is unlikely to provide a solution. This is because the government has failed to consider the restrictive gender norms that prevent men and women from bearing the burden of childcare equally. 

What Japanese Policies Need to Consider About Birth Rate

According to the IMF, Japan’s wage gap is one of the lowest among OECD countries, second only to South Korea at 24.5 percent in 2018. A significant factor is the high number of “non-regular” workers, who are not full-time employees on fixed-term contracts. Women (53%) make up a disproportionate number of non-regular employees compared to men (14.1%). Additionally, the scarcity of female managers contributes to the disparity among regular employees. The low representation of women in leadership roles results in limited support for women’s hiring, even at entry-level positions. Moreover, despite a quota system in the Japanese Cabinet, only a few women serve as House representatives.

All this is to say that there needs to be steady reforms in how the workplace operates. By focusing more on policies such as providing monetary incentives to have children, the Japanese government aims to directly lift the total fertility rate. However, the minimal impact of monetary policies calls for radical change in how the government perceives and tackles the birth rate decline. Due to how work is perceived in Japanese society, most women face a crossroads between a full-time job and a family. If the government spends more resources on integrating women into the regular job market sustainably, this could have unprecedented impacts on the TFR.

Future of Birth Rates

birth rate and its future

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As long as women continue to be sidelined at the workplace while occupying mostly non-regular positions, the perception towards work and family will remain the same. Women must be provided with the option of tackling both work and family with cooperative workplaces, flexible schedules and societal and community support. Policies should focus more on normalizing paid time off for both men and women, and for women to return to work after maternity leave. Women should also occupy positions of power in both the private sector and government for policies to cater towards gender equality. A big shift needs to occur for Japanese society to overcome its declining population. Otherwise, the increasing monetary incentives will drive the country into failure once again. 

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