TOKYO – The average age of Japan’s population has been steadily climbing for quite some time now. Part of that can be credited to healthy diets and sufficient healthcare extending longevity, plus admirably little violent crime and few traffic accidents killing people who’re still in the prime of their youth. But on the other end of the equation, a big reason for Japan’s aging population is that while the old people keep getting older, the country just isn’t getting restocked with newborns. You have to go all the way back to 1974 for the last time Japan’s birthrate was above 2.0, meaning the country’s been getting older ever since.
Now, while some might argue that certain parts of Japan are already too crowded, a declining population raises serious economic and societal concerns, not the least of which is the greater burden placed on a smaller workforce to support elderly retirees. Raising the birthrate is something the Japanese government has been trying to do for many years, and a panel of experts has just released its newest batch of suggestions, including one that exhausted wives and live-in-girlfriends would no doubt be happy to see become reality: men doing more housework and spending more time taking care of children.
As part of the preparation of the Japanese government’s Outline of Declining Birthrate Countermeasures, the panel said that a key prerequisite to increasing the birth rate will be a reevaluation of the division of roles, and their associated responsibilities, based on gender, and in turn a reconsideration of work and lifestyles so as to incorporate greater participation of men in housework and childcare activities.
Until just a generation or two ago, it was still the norm for Japanese men to be the sole breadwinner for their household, with women generally transitioning to housewives after marriage, and then stay-at-home mothers. Now, though, more Japanese women than ever before are continuing to work, by choice or out of necessity, after marriage and having children. With women having more outside-the-home responsibilities to take care of, it’s simple math that men would need to start sending more time taking care of the home and kids in order for any sort of sustainable, enjoyable family life to be possible.
However, it can’t be ignored that even though Japanese women are doing more outside-the-home work in the modern era, it’s not like Japanese men’s notoriously busy work schedules have gotten any easier for the current generation. Salarymen still pull as much overtime (including pseudo-overtime like mandatory after-hours socializing with bosses and colleagues) as they ever did, and with only so many hours in the day, the issue isn’t always as simple as a husband coming home, kicking up his feet, and relaxing in front of the TV while his wife slaves away cooking and cleaning.
Unfortunately, the panel’s recommendations don’t directly address how to free up any more time for dual-income couples, though the experts did allude to better utilization of information technology and artificial intelligence boosting the efficiency of professional childcare services, which would ostensibly lower their costs as well.
The Japanese government will be taking the recommendations into consideration in the creation of more concrete policies, which are expected to be decided upon by the coming spring. The goal is to raise Japan’s birthrate to 1.8, which would still be far off from the three-kids-per-woman target one Japanese politician floated earlier this year, but a big step up from the current 1.42.