To boost Japan’s lukewarm birth rate, get men off the couch

TOKYO – Imagine you are a policy maker looking to increase your country’s low birth rate, what should you do? An important step is to encourage men to take more care of children and do housework, according to a Nikkei analysis.

Japan’s birth rate stood at 1.34 children per woman in 2020, up from 1.36 in 2019, and hit its lowest level since 2007, while the government’s target is 1.8. The “replacement rate” needed to keep the population stable is 2.1.

Women tend to spend more time on child care and household chores than men in many countries. A glaring finding of the study is that the greater the disparity between men and women in the time spent on household chores, the lower the birth rate.

Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development 2019 revealed a particularly large gap in the amount of time spent on housework and childcare between men and women in Japan and South Korea. Women spent 4.76 times more time on these tasks than men in Japan and 4.43 times more in South Korea. In contrast, in countries where the difference in time spent on household chores is double or less, the fertility rate generally remains above 1.5.

In Japan and South Korea, the birth rate has fallen below 1.5, the threshold for a sharply declining population. Last year it was just 0.84 in South Korea.

Things may be starting to change. A 39-year-old woman who works full-time in Tokyo gave birth to her second child in June, as she had long wanted. Although she is in a managerial position that requires overtime, she felt that she could manage both her job and childcare thanks to her 45-year-old husband’s active participation in household chores from birth. of their first child, who is now 9 years old. She decided to have a second child because she could share the burden with her husband, she said.

Analyzing data from 19 European countries, Matthias Doepke, professor at Northwestern University in the United States, and his research team found in an economic analysis that a country’s birth rate declines if women bear a disproportionate share. babysitting duties because they become less willing to have a child. The low birth rates in Japan and South Korea are closely linked to the lack of time men in both countries spend on childcare, compared to women, Doepke said.

The availability of childcare leave is key to increasing the time men spend on household chores. Japan is one of the few countries where both men and women are legally entitled to leave. In fact, Japan ranks first among 41 countries, including OECD member states, for the length of paid childcare leave, according to UNICEF.

But fathers in Japan rarely take advantage of this advantage. In fiscal year 2020, only 12.65% of men took childcare leave compared to 81.60% of women who took the leave.

Japan’s revised Parental and Family Leave Law, which allows fathers to take up to four weeks of parental leave within eight weeks of the birth of a child, will come into force in fiscal year 2022, putting the employer parental leave policies in the spotlight. To demonstrate the effectiveness of legal change, “it is necessary to show cases in which male workers are not penalized at work after taking leave,” said Shintaro Yamaguchi, professor of labor economics at the University. from Tokyo.

In the recent leadership elections of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the four candidates, including the winner, Fumio Kishida, who became Japan’s new prime minister on Monday, pledged to double the government’s budget for the custody of ‘children.

Critics say Japan is failing to offer parent support. The country’s public expenditure on childcare allowances, parental leave allowances, daycare and other family-related programs amounts to 1.79% of gross domestic product, or about half of the ratios of the France and Sweden, according to OECD data for 2017.

While the birth rate is relatively high in countries with generous family programs, another important question is how to spend the money. According to Doepke and his team, reducing the burden on mothers by creating, for example, public day care centers is more effective in increasing fertility and costs only about a third of what it offers fathers, such as subsidies.

To increase the birth rate in countries like Japan, it is essential to promote greater involvement of men in childcare and household chores and better targeting of family expenses.

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