No solution for low birthrate?

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No solution for low birthrate?

The author is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

On June 3, the Wall Street Journal ran an online article with an interesting title: “Japan’s New Thinking on Low Birth Rate: Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” After pouring out incentives for childbirth and child care to prevent the fertility rate from declining for 30 years, Tokyo has admitted its failure and turned the policy direction toward creating a “society where people can enjoy work and raise kids.”

There hasn’t been an official announcement, but Tokyo seems to be going in the new direction. Last month, Tesla founder Elon Musk tweeted that Japan would “eventually cease to exist.” But people around me showed a lukewarm response: “It’s nothing new,” they said.

When the total fertility rate — the number of children each woman has in her lifetime — fell below 1.5 for the first time in 1994, Japan was in shock. Various measures followed, including the legislation of the basic act to deal with the issue. A ministerial position in charge of the issue was also created. Twenty-one ministers have served the position so far. All the measures we can think of have been presented, including childbirth subsidies, child care support, more day care centers, and encouraging people to take parental leaves.

The result is a fertility rate at 1.3 in 2021, a decrease for six consecutive years from 1.33 in 2020. The outlook is even more grim. According to the announcement of the Japanese government on Tuesday, 50 percent of women in their 20s and 70 percent of men in their 20s said they did not have a spouse or were not in a relationship. When asked about their intentions of getting married, 25.4 percent of women in their 30s and 26.5 percent of men said no. More and more young people are not dating or willing to get married each year.

Tokyo is seeking answers from their reasoning. When asked why they don’t want to get married, most women chose, “unwilling to take on duties of job, housework and child care.” Most men cited “unstable job and lack of financial capacity to sustain marriage.” In the end, a long journey to make a “good society” with stable jobs and fair relationships is necessary rather than an immediate focus on having and raising kids.

Among the measures proposed in Japan this year, the first task was “to create an environment in which the generation getting married and having children can draw their future prospects.” Improving employment and environment for women to be financially independent also was emphasized. It is a long journey, but the direction seems right. Of course, that also applies to Korea with the amazing fertility rate of 0.81.
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