Poppy has been living in Japan for over six years. She likes to read novels, write, and play video games.
In 2020, Japan's birth rate decreased by 2% since the previous year. There were also fewer marriages, the rate plummeting by 12%. Although the latter could possibly be people postponing their weddings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the fifth year in a row that the birth rate has decreased.
This has been a rising problem for a while as Japan's population is rapidly becoming older on average, meaning that in a few decades, there'll be an imbalance in age, with not enough young people to support the older generations.
So why are people in Japan having so few babies? Here are seven possible reasons.
The sheer cost of having a baby in Japan is staggering. Although everyone has national insurance, pregnancy and childbirth aren't covered by it because it doesn't count as an injury or illness. Though there are ways to get some financial help if you get pregnant in Japan, overall it's still a huge expense even before the baby arrives.
Doctor visits and ultrasounds, hospital stays, and the birth itself rack up to hundreds of thousands of yen. Compared to places like the UK and Canada where healthcare is free, starting a family in Japan is so expensive many people decide not to, or to have fewer children than they'd have liked.
Couple that with regular child costs: clothes, toys, and school fees, and you have an expense that many people can barely afford.
2. Lack of Pain Relief
Unlike many western countries, Japanese hospitals don't offer much pain relief to expecting mothers. Some hospitals, like the one where I had my son, don't offer any at all. The ones that do offer epidurals charge as much as 100,000 yen for it. Though this might be a smaller reason, it nevertheless highlight's Japan's insufficient support for pregnant women.
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3. Work Commitments
Like in many first-world countries, women work, even if they're married. 2019 saw the highest percentage of working women in Japan (52%). This decreased slightly in 2020, perhaps because of the pandemic.
Housing and other expenses mean it's harder for women to be housewives and leave all the breadwinning to their husbands. Maternity leave does exist in Japan, but many women choose to focus on their careers rather than become mothers. Sometimes this is a choice, and other times it's not financially viable to quit or take time off work to have a baby.
5. Fewer Immigrants
This, I think, is a significant one. Japan rarely takes in refugees, accepting only a handful a year despite thousands of applications. Countries that accept lots of immigrants, such as the UK, have rising populations despite low birth rates because of migration.
Japan is still mostly homogenous, and so the birth rate is more noticeable as fewer people move into the country when compared to western Europe and the USA.
4. Nuclear Families in Media
Whenever I see a drama or a commercial on TV, it's extremely rare that a family has more than two children. If you tell society this is the norm, then anything more than that seems excessive. My brother in law has three sons, and I remember almost saying "Wow! So many kids!" before remembering that three isn't many at all.
6. Not Enough Childcare Services
Despite all these issues, childcare services are still lacking in Japan. Even in large cities like Osaka and Kyoto, nursery schools are incredibly competitive and you have to meet certain criteria, such as the mother working a certain number of hours a week, to get your child into one at all. Families living in rural areas have even fewer choices.
7. Women are Having Children Later
Plenty of women in Japan do want kids, but they're waiting later and later to do it. The average age of having a first child in Japan was around twenty in 1970; in 2020, it was thirty. This is likely because of work commitments and the cost.
Japan has one of the fastest falling birth rates in the world, and it's arguable that this might lead to mass immigration. Only time will tell whether politicians will strive to make it easier for people to start families earlier and have more babies, increasing the birth rate and providing a future for the Japanese population.
© 2022 Poppy