(Nikkei: March 1, 2016 – p. 30)
Supporting women in balancing work and childrearing has long been a key component of the nation’s measures to counter the falling birthrate, but the situation remains that women in Japan often have to choose either work or children.
According to the Japanese National Fertility Survey (survey of married couples) conducted by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 60% of women who had their first child between 2005 and 2009 resigned from their workplaces after giving birth. This figure is essentially the same as that for mothers who gave birth [to their first child] between 1985 and 1989.
In the years since then, systems to support women in balancing work and family, including childcare leave and shortened work-hour systems, have been developed. However, it is hard for them to stay at their workplaces while their colleagues continue to work under rigid systems of long working hours. Systems to support work-life balance must go hand in hand with a review of employment conditions. Many say that promoting one without the other would reduce the impact.
“The Law for Measures to Support the Development of the Next Generation,” which makes it mandatory for companies to create action plans for supporting childrearing, was originally intended to be valid only until March 2015. The law has been extended, however, through March 2025, and a framework to promote the reduction of overtime has been added.
Some industrialized countries have a birthrate of over 1.8 children per woman. In Shigoto to kazoku (Work and family), author Junya Tsutsui, a professor at Ritsumeikan University, draws on his detailed analysis of the situation in Sweden and the United States and makes the point that creating a society of two-income families, where women continue to work [after childbirth], “radically resolves the issue of a dwindling birthrate.” With two incomes, it is easier for a couple to marry and raise children even if the man’s work is unstable.
Tsutsui suggests limiting the requirements placed on full-time employees and revitalizing the external labor market are conditions for Japan’s birthrate to rise.
Measures to increase the birthrate do not only concern young people who want to create families; they require discussion of the very structure of society itself.