Japan’s fertility rate, which represents the average number of children a woman would bear in her lifetime, stood at 1.41 last year, far below the rate of 2.07 that is needed to maintain the current population level.
Due to the decreasing population of women of child-bearing ages, the number of children born in Japan in 2012 was the lowest on record.
However, with more women in their 30s giving birth in recent years, the fertility rate itself has recovered gradually since bottoming out at 1.26 in 2005. The 2012 rate increased by 0.02 from 2011 and cleared the 1.40-mark for the first time in 16 years.
The entire society needs to contribute to creating an atmosphere that makes it easy for people to raise children so that anyone can start a family without worries.
But such a welcome trend has to start within the family. The husband--or the father--must get more involved in parenting.
“Ikumen,” a colloquial expression that denotes men who actively participate in parenting, first appeared in The Asahi Shimbun in January 2008. It has become a household word since it made the top 10 list of fad expressions in 2010.
Today, it is no longer rare to see unaccompanied men holding babies and going about town. If this is a sign that the traditional perception of gender-based division of labor is on its way out, we certainly welcome it.
But according to a recent opinion poll conducted by the Cabinet Office, only 8.2 percent of respondents cited “easy to raise children” as a reason for their satisfaction with society. The percentage has remained practically unchanged over the last five years.
The key to change lies in employers’ treatment of people with small children. Are young parents being forced to work overtime unnecessarily? Caring superiors or colleagues could change the whole situation for the better.
Traditionally, the political community has paid little attention to supporting child-rearing parents. But a change came in 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan came into power and adopted a “children first” policy. The current Liberal Democratic Party administration of Shinzo Abe is committed to shortening waiting lists for day-care enrollment.
According to a national survey, married couples plan to have an average 2.07 children, which is way short of their ideal of 2.42.
Six out of 10 respondents said the biggest reason for having fewer children than they really want is that “it costs too much money to raise and educate children.”
Their thinking would change if the government enhances support for them by allocating part of the increased revenue from planned consumption tax hike.
But the most urgent matter is to take measures for people who have to give up getting married for economic reasons. Today, those who will never marry in their lifetime account for 20 percent of men and over 10 percent of women. By 2035, the figures are projected to reach 30 percent and nearly 20 percent, respectively.
To stop this trend, it is vital to guarantee stable employment to young people. Nearly 70 percent of men in their 30s with full-time jobs are married, but the rate falls to 24 percent among non-regular workers in the same age group.
Prime Minister Abe’s economic growth strategy can be called a success only if it becomes normal for people to have no economic worries about getting married and having two or three children.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 19
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