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Why Japanese couples aren’t having kids (Bloomberg)

12 March 2023


Bloomberg title: Why Japanese couples aren’t having kids
By: Kanoko Matsuyama
Date: 6 March 2023

“Last week, Japan announced it had welcomed fewer than 800,000 babies in 2022, the lowest number since record-keeping began in 1899.

The country has been trying to boost its birth rate for years. The government is increasing its lump sum payment to help with the costs of having a baby to ¥500,000 yen ($3,680), women get up to two years’ maternity leave and men can take up to a year – though cultural expectations and fears about job security mean few do.

Japan’s also increasing the number of day-care facilities, provides free care and education to kids once they turn three and helps cover the cost of some fertility treatments.

But those efforts are falling short for many Japanese. As a working mother of three children, I can understand why people choose to have one or no kids and it feels like the biggest hurdles are a lack of time and money.

Japan’s work culture is notorious for long hours at the office, little flexibility, and expectations around after-work drinking with colleagues. It makes doing things like taking your kid to the doctor, going to a school event, or just taking time off,  incredibly difficult if you don’t have a supportive boss.

It’s also, simply, really expensive. While education is free between the ages of three and 15, parents still need to pay tuition for the final years of high school, with many also paying to send their kids to additional classes to prepare for university entrance exams. And once they get in to college, you pay for that too.

Don’t forget about the cost of living crisis, so you’ll need to factor in spending more on everything from food to electricity and housing. Japanese families are trying to do it all on a relatively low average wage, which has grown just a few percentage points over the past two decades and is the lowest level among G-7 nations.

It’s made having a child effectively a luxury, and higher-income families tend to have more kids, according to a report by Dai-Ichi Life Group.

The low birth rate is set to have significant economic consequences as Japan will have a smaller workforce, and fewer taxpayers to pay for elderly care, in years to come.

Japan’s struggles to lift its birth rate are a chilling glimpse of what may be coming for some of its neighbors. China’s population shrank in 2022 for the first time in six decades, while South Korea smashed its own record for the world’s lowest fertility rate.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is eager to turn things around and has made support for children and their families a priority, with the government pledging to double its childcare budget.

Luckily, my husband and I have sufficient income to be able to afford three kids and the support system we need. But if Japan is truly serious about encouraging people to have kids, it needs to make them feel that they have the time — and money — for everything that parenthood entails. — Kanoko Matsuyama

Note LO: text above copied from Bloomberg Prognosis newsletter, dated 6 March 2023



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