Social infertility and the birth rateTokyo’s Bunkyo District recently published a booklet explaining how a woman’s eggs age. It is a health education supplement for middle school students, but it is different from conventional texts that mostly emphasize the negative aspects of sexual relations, like sexually transmitted diseases.
The ideal age range for pregnancy is generally considered between 25 and 35, and the number and quality of a woman’s eggs drastically decrease after that. Teaching students about this process is necessary with the country’s birth rate so low.
Japan hopes its younger generation will choose to marry earlier and have more children. According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, more Japanese women are choosing to have their first child later in their lives. The national average in 2013 was 30.4. Women in Tokyo have children around 32, the oldest in the nation.
Beginning to have children later means less children in total, and the Japanese government is feeling the pressure. Throughout her life, the average woman in Tokyo has 1.13 children. In the same period, that rate was 0.97 for women in Seoul and 1.05 for those in Busan. But the low fertility rate is more serious in Korea.
Japanese women are reluctant to marry and have children. They tend to delay marriage until they find a job, and even when they do wed, they postpone pregnancy because balancing work and child care is not easy.
In fact, many women suffer from “social infertility,” delaying motherhood to focus on work. Lately, more Japanese women have taken to freezing their eggs. Women who want to eventually have children but cannot due to their careers often resort to this method. They spend about 1 million yen ($7,960) to have about 10 eggs extracted, frozen and stored. In Japan, the success rate for pregnancy using frozen eggs and in vitro fertilization is about 10 percent.
But infertility and oocyte storage are controversial issues. Clinical studies for unmarried female cancer patients whose ovulation was affected by anticancer drugs began in 2007. But many argue that if healthy women freeze their eggs, it actually encourages them to have children later. However, supporters of the method say that there are various reasons why women postpone motherhood and their decisions should be respected.
In Korea, egg banks are preparing to open, so clear guidelines and regulations should be established to enhance the storage and elimination process. However, the more important and urgent task is to create a social environment in which women can pursue both a career and motherhood without being forced to choose one or the other.
The author is the Japan correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 6, Page 26
by LEE JEONG-HEON