Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Possible Measures against the Declining Birthrate
NAGAI Taeko / Journalist

May 25, 2004
All sorts of data imply the difficulty of solving this particular problem in Japan.

The reasons for the difficulty stem from the claustrophobic matter of affairs in this country: a relationship between the sexes that is as conservative as ever, general disapproval for those who won't conform, and economic circumstances on which singles are able to subsis -- if only minimally. Then there is the education policy that weighs heavily upon the family finances.

In light of the fact \100,000 per month is needed for the extra-curricular education of two children--\150,000 for three--, parents might very well abandon their hopes to have their second child, let alone the third. Entrance into a brand-name college--the passport for the subsequent entry into a stable company--consumes funds best reserved for after the parents' retirement. On top of all this, constant comparison with others from a young age depletes children of their sense of self-affirmation. (According to the research done by the Japan Youth Research Institute, the percentage of Japanese youths who believe in their 'own worth' is an excessively low 8.8% in contrast to the 50% given for the United States and South Korea.)

The government has come up with their own countermeasures to the falling birthrate. They, however, fall short of their target. The enhancement of the Child Care Leave Law is only applicable to the rather small proportions of workers who are permanent employees. The women were the first to be hit by the worsening employment in the recent years, and 50% of female workers under 30 years old are non-permanent employees. Unlike the United States and Europe, the rift in working conditions between permanent and non-permanent workers is great. In order to dam up the problem at its source, we must first rid of the inherent sexual discrimination within the employment system. The current workplace shows the woman the door as soon as she is with child.

In addition, household chores continue to be the burden of women. While there might be romantic feelings between couples, whether they also perceive each other as potential partners in bearing and raising children is entirely another question. Although both men and women who want to 'someday get married' and 'have children' are not few, the number of women who are apprehensive of losing their financial independence and solely being a stay-at-home mother is considerable.

Women are beginning to sense risk in the institution of marriage itself. As the rising divorce rate demonstrates, marriage itself is facing system-fatigue now that awareness of the Japanese as individuals has been set in motion.

While we still have far to go, a possible solution would be a transition to a more flexible society in which giving births and raising children can be supported without having to resort to marriage. Northern Europe is already witness to increasing births outside marriage. A legal reform for dual surnames for couples would be additionally helpful: liberating women who have children without changing names from condescension and discrimination might lead to a change for the better.

The writer is the executive director of Setagaya Arts Center, and a former newscaster for NHK.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

永井多恵子 / ジャーナリスト

2004年 5月 25日







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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Possible Measures against the Declining Birthrate