Japanese policies push young adults to procreate

CMYK-Japan wants baby-Pieterjan Vandaele-Flickr

A Japanese member of parliament is taking the country’s population crisis into her own hands by promoting policies that would encourage Japan’s younger generations to get busy and start making babies.

By hosting national matchmaking parties and encouraging a return to old-style marriage introductions, Yuriko Koike hopes to increase the number of marriages in Japan from 600,000 in 2013 to one million by 2020. 

The government has put three billion yen towards this mission in a country that faces its lowest birth rate since 1899.

“Their problem is pretty serious,” professor of international studies Michael Howard told The Peak. “It’s not like they’re about to be hit by a tsunami or anything, but it’s looming pretty fast within the next decade, and the problem is that of course these things do take a long time to find solutions for.”

Shrinking by a record 244,000 people in 2013 alone, Japan’s population of 127 million is expected to fall to approximately 87 million by 2060, according to a recent analysis by government researchers.

Koike told The Telegraph that these policies are meant to revive the sort of old-school romance that gets lost in the midst of pursuing careers: “Younger generations, both men and women, complain that they have less opportunity to get to know each other. Japanese businessmen and women also work too long, normally until midnight, so there is no time to become acquainted with new people.”

Although these policies may seem unusual, other East Asian countries have pursued similar programs to combat falling population growth rates. In 2003, the Singapore government launched a “Love Boat” cruise service that offered couples a program of fertility seminars, massages, aphrodisiacs, and a night at a holiday resort — all designed to put couples in the mood.

“Singapore is a nice example of a country that has all these extreme policies to try to get people to have more children. [. . .] It doesn’t work very well,” said Howard. “They’ve tried everything you can with all the best frills in the world, but basically once you hit a certain level of development, you get women educated, and they’re just not going to have very many children.”

Japan’s current fertility rate is 1.4, which represents the average number of children a woman is expected to have over her lifetime. Koike explained that for Japanese women, it is often a choice between getting married and having children or having a career.

“To tell them to drop out of the workforce and produce 2.5 children or something like that, they’re not going to do it,” said Howard. “Outside of lining them up against a wall and threatening them to produce children I don’t know what’s going to work.”

One of the consequences of this decline in birth rates is a rapidly aging population. By 2055, international statistics organizations estimate that 38 per cent of the population will be over 65.

“Theoretically one could suppose that [Japan] could simply become a big retirement home,” said Howard.

Howard suggested that increased immigration may be the most effective solution to the population crisis. However, he said that Japan does “not have a history of being an immigrant-friendly country,” and this is therefore unlikely.

“These are things that are really tough to overcome [. . .] unless they can really come up with some policies that people are willing to agree with,” said Howard.

Until that happens, Howard said, “it’s just going to get worse.”