Monday, May 01, 2006

Japan A Suitable Place For Children?

by Edward Hugh

The Japanese newspaper Asahi this weekend published the results of a survey carried out on behalf of the Japenese cabinet office into attitudes towards having children in Japan, South Korea, France, Sweden and the US.

Whereas in Europe and the United States respondents tended to indicate they expected to have all the children they wanted, of those Japanese interviewed who said that they want to have more children, 53.1 percent said they do not plan to do so. More than half of the South Koreans said the same.

When asked whether they considered Japan a suitable place to bear and raise children, 50.3 percent of the Japanese respondents completely or somewhat disagreed. In South Korea, 79.8 percent said their country is unsuitable for raising children. In contrast, 97.7 percent of Swedes said their country is suitable, while the figures were 78.2 percent in the United States and 68 percent in France.

These results whilst not conclusive about anything do put me in mind of Wolfgang Lutz's fertility trap hypothesis. Basically the idea here would be that once low fertility has continued for a significant time (low fertility is defined by Lutz as below 1.5TFR, and Japan has now been below the 2.1TFR replacement level for several decades) it may be hard to raise the expectations of people about the number of children they are likely to have, especially if economic conditions at the same time exert pressure on your capacity to do so. Japan would therefore be a classic case of such a possibility. The latter point seems to be reinforced by the latest findings in another Asahi survey, which suggested many people in Japan seem to feel that their living standards have deteriorated during the Koizumi era.

Forty-two percent of those responding to an Asahi newspaper survey said their livelihoods deteriorated under the leadership of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Just 18 percent said they are now better off.....

Japan is just beginning to consider the social costs of some of Koizumi's policies. During his tenure, the government has trimmed pension and health benefits. Among other changes, inheritance tax laws were altered to simplify the transfer of large assets, and capital-gains taxes were lowered......

At the same time, Koizumi hasn't matched Japan's debt sales with the kinds of tax cuts that might benefit the broader economy. Japan doesn't need to make rich people who invest in stocks or real estate even richer; what it needs is babies.

Because of a low birthrate of 1.26 children per woman, Japan's population actually shrank in 2005. If you are going to cut taxes, why not do it for young families to boost the nation's birthrate? Without a significant increase in the number of births, Japan may never get out from under its debt load. Its debt-to- gross-domestic-product ratio is about 151 percent, the highest among developed nations.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that Lutz' fertility trap could work in the opposite direction, as increasing loneliness throughout society caused by the lack of family ties (it's human nature not to want to grow old and die alone) leads more and more people to consider having children.

Iron Rails & Iron Weights

Anonymous said...

Communities experience economies of scale in child-raising: it's easier to find child care when you have lots of friends with similarly-aged children. It's easier to spend more public money on education when parents of school-aged children represent a large voting bloc.

Phryne said...

Hi, a bit off-topic, but can you use this: