Date: October 27, 1997
Prepared by: Policy Planning and Evaluation Division

Minister's Secretariat, Ministry of Health and Welfare

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The Council on Population Problems of the Government of Japan today issued a report titled "On the Basic Viewpoint Regarding the Trend Towards Fewer Children - A Society of Decreasing Population:Responsibilities and Choices for the Future --" . It is the first time for a Japanese governmental body to issue a report on this theme.

The Council had been working on this report since last February.

A provisional English translation of the outline of the report is attached to this release. An English version of the full report is going to be prepared and will be provided upon request.

This report aims to provide a starting point for a national discussion on the issues involving the trends toward fewer children and a society with a decreasing population.

The Council, which is established at the Ministry of Health and Welfare and is charged with preparing opinions to relevant ministers of the cabinet on important matters concerning population issues, consists of 25 regular members and 7 additional members.

They are academics and/or practitioners in such fields as demography, economics, sociology, law, political science, medicine, nursing, education, business, labor, among others.

The chairperson of the Council is Professor Kenichi Miyazawa, Professor Emeritus of the Hitotsubashi University. The Policy Planning and Evaluation Division of the Ministry of Health and Welfare is the Secretariat to the Council.


Council on Population Problems of the Government of Japan
October 27, 1997

On the Basic Viewpoint Regarding the Trend Towards Fewer Children (Report)

-- A Society of Decreasing Population: Responsibilities and Choices for the Future --

(Provisional Translation)

I. Introduction -- The Trend Towards Fewer Children Is a Warning to the Japanese Society --

II. The Current Status of the Trend Towards Fewer Children and the Future Population Projection -- A Society of Decreasing Population is Now on its Way --

  1. The Japanese fertility has been falling dramatically in recent years. The total fertility rate (TFR) dropped to 1.42 in 1995, substantially bypassing the 2.08 threshold, the level required to maintain the current population in the coming years. With such low fertility, the trend towards fewer children is now progressing.
  2. The working age population has been growing smaller after reaching a peak in 1995. Subsequently, the total population is predicted to reach a peak in 2007, then begin to decrease, forming a society with a decreasing population.

III. Effects of the Trend Towards Fewer Children -- Negative Effects Mostly --

1. Effects on the Economy

  1. The Decrease in the Labor Force Population and its Subsequent Effects on the Economic Growth A decrease in the working age population leads to a decrease in the labor forcepopulation. It also leads to a significant change in the age structure of the labor force population. Thus, economic growth is impacted.
  2. Effects on the Nation's Levels of Living
    1. Increasing Burdens for the Working Population With the Progress of Aging
    2. Hovering Net Income for the Working Population
      • A decline in the growth of per capita income and an increase in the ratio of so- called national burden (taxation and the social security burden) could possibly cause a decrease in net income for the working population, which is the balance of gross income remaining after subtracting taxes and social insurance premiums.
      • A society where the working population is not rewarded for their efforts with an improved level of living,may face a serious risk of economic and social vitality being obstructed in both areas of productivity and consumption.

2. Effects on Society

(1) Transformation of the Family

The family structures have largely changed and diversified as is shown in an increase inthe number of unmarried people and households with no children.

(2) Effects on Children

(3) Transformation of the Community

With progress of depopulation and population aging in rural areas, some municipalities have difficulty in providing basic social and health services to their residents.

Some point out a positive impact on environmental issues, housing/land issues, and alleviation of the entrance exam competition among other issues, while others contest to such opinions that those are only a short-term impact.Negative impacts are generally indicated

IV. Underlying Factors and the Background of the Trend Towards Fewer Children

1. Underlying Factors of the Trend Towards Fewer Children

  1. A Rise in the Proportion Never Married (The Trend Toward Later Marriage and a Rise in the Celibacy Rate)
    <Factors for a Rise in the Proportion Never Married>
    1. Burden of Child Rearing and of Reconciling Child Rearing with Work
      • Inflexible employment practices and corporate culture which demand workers to prioritize work over family
      • Deep-rooted and inflexible attitudes towards roles between men and women, and the status of men's unwillingness to participate in homemaking/child rearing
      • Isolation of mothers, thereby causing them feel lonely and worried
      • Work situations, such as long commuting time
      • Easy-to-use nursery care services are unavailable.
      • An increase in benefits which might be lost (opportunity costs for marriage and child rearing) as a result of giving up continued employment and choosing marriage and child rearing instead
    2. Changes in Attitude Toward Marriage and in Value System
      • Progress in women's employment outside home and the improved economic power of women
      • Liberation of sex and outsourcing homemaking services
      • Less significance of having children to provide support for parents in their retiredlife
      • Decrease in adherence of the general public to marriage as a norm
      • Desire for the freedom which single life can give
    3. Hesitation Toward Marriage Life Being Independent of Parents
      • Comfortable life associated with living with parents in the same house
      • An issue of maintaining the same standard of living prior to marriage

  2. Gap Between the Average Number of Children (2.2) and the Average Ideal Number of Children (2.6)

    <Factors underlying the gap between the average number of children and the average ideal number of children>

    1. The aforementioned 1 of (1)
    2. Increased Direct Costs and Opportunity Costs Related to Child Rearing
      • Direct costs spent on child rearing have further increased because caring for and spending money on children, including providing a good education, has become significant by itself. Opportunity costs have also increased.
    3. Desire to Provide Children With a Better Life
      • There is a thought that it is better to have fewer children in order to spend enough on their education and to enable them to inherit their parents' real estate.
    4. Others
      • Cases of infertility, and concerns for giving birth at higher age, among others

2. Background of the Factors for the Trend Towards Fewer Children

The trend towards fewer children is the result of the diverse lifestyles of individuals, while being deeply related to the situation faced by the entire Japanese society, where the expansion of material production and consumption has been prioritized and has been enjoyed by the citizens in an atmosphere of rigidly divided roles between men and women in the family and corporate activities.

  1. Indication of a Diversified Lifestyle of Individuals With the Progress in the Maturing of Our Society
  2. Women's Advancement in Society, an Inflexible Attitude Toward Divided Roles Between Men and Women and Employment Practices Which Prevent Their Advancement, and the Existence of a Corporate Culture Which Supports Such Attitude and Practices
    • The decline in fertility has come about, to a large extent, in the process of women's advancement in society. The issue is, however, that marriage and child rearing restrict an individual's freedom and cause people to feel a sense of burden and anxiety toward marriage and child rearing, under the Japanese people's inflexible attitude toward, and practices of, divided roles between men and women, and employment practices and corporate culture which prioritize work over family.
    • In addition, this suggests the need for a review of the inflexible employment practices such as men-centered lifetime employment and seniority-based wage system.
  3. Hesitation to Leave a Comfortable Life to become Independent
    • A lifestyle that does not prioritize economic and psychological independence due to one's desire for a comfortable life and vague concerns for living an independent family life, along with the social trend of accepting such a lifestyle
  4. Concerns About Today's and Future Society
    • A nationwide feeling that one has reached a dead end, concerns for post-retirement life including pension and long-term care and vague concerns regarding the stresses in society that have led to the problem of bullying and deterioration in public security and order within the community

V. Responses to a Society With a Decreasing Population as a Result of Fewer Children

1. Addressing the Impact of the Decrease in the Number of Children

(1) Addressing its Economic Impact

  1. Creating an Employment Environment Where Everyone who Wishes to Work can Find Employment
    • In order to alleviate the decrease in the labor force population, we need to tear down age- and gender-based walls and create a new employment environment where elderly people, people with disabilities, women and all others who wish to work can be employed and can choose a suitable working arrangement from among a variety of options.
    • Issues surrounding the employment of elderly people are of particular importance. We need to reexamine the fixed conventional employment practices, such as age limitation for employment and the mandatory retirement age system, all of which are connected with the present life-time employment and seniority-based wage system which does not offer a variety of employment arrangement
    • Moreover, we need to create an efficient society by resolving the mismatch of the supply and demand for the labor force, which are anticipated to increase due to changes in the age composition of labor force population in the future.
  2. Maintaining the Vitality and Competitiveness of Businesses and the Vitality of Individuals
    • Creating new industrial sectors with high added value and creating an internationally attractive business environment
    • Containing the so-called national burden below a certain level, as well as realizing a fiscal structure which is suitable for an aged society with fewer children
  3. Establishing a Fair and Stable Social Security System
    • Optimizing benefits and achieving proper cost sharing in pension and health care systems, etc. while responding to concerns for long-term care, among others
    • Avoiding becoming sick and falling into a condition that requires care, through health promotion, enhanced preventive medicine and rehabilitation, and improved living habits, and thus decreasing the burden of health expenditures and long-term care cost
    • Facilitating various means of social participation in old age

(2) Addressing its Social Impact

  1. Developing the Local Government System and Revitalizing Local Communities
  2. Education That Nurture Children's Creativity and Sociability, and Healthy Upbringing

2. Addressing the Factors Underlying the Trend Towards Fewer Children

(1)Pros and Cons of Addressing the Factors Underlying the Trend Towards Fewer Children

(2)How to Address the Factors Underlying the Trend Towards Fewer Children
  1. Correcting a Fixed Division of Roles Between Men and Women and the Inflexible Employment Practices Which Prioritize Work Over Family
    • We should reexamine and correct the situation of the fixed division of roles between men and women and inflexible employment practices that require workers to prioritize their work over family. To this end, we also need to reevaluate not only these systems, but also people's perspectives and the corporate culture themselves that support these systems, so that we can move toward the direction of encouraging everybody to respect the idea of reconciling work with personal life and become creative in how one works.
  2. Comprehensive and Effective Promotion of Various Child-rearing Support Measures
    As a measure designed to support child-rearing, the "Basic Direction for Future Child Rearing Support Measures" (Angel Plan) has been promoted. From the perspective of addressing the factors underlying the trend towards fewer children, we should be attentive to the following points, among others:
    • In light of the increasing opportunity cost of raising children, it is particularly important to improve the employment environment to support working parents in their efforts to raise a family and to secure a variety of nursery care services, etc.
    • It is also important that we endeavor to alleviate the psychological and physical burdens associated with child care at home as people's concern for security in the community increases and they experience greater difficulty in gaining child care support from relatives and neighbors due to the spread of nuclear families and progress in urbanization.
    • We should investigate the measures to alleviate the economic burden of child-rearing, considering the significance, feasibility, and effects of such measures.
    • It is necessary for both men and women to rediscover the joy and pleasure of child-rearing.
    • Measures to support the employment of female workers who have infants/toddlers should not be denied.
  3. Issues Requiring Further Discussion
    • Issues such as the promotion of research for infertility treatment, supporting health promotion for women, using different family names for a wife and a husband, and children born outside the marriage

VI. Conclusion - Making a Society With a Decreasing Population a "Relaxing, Accommodating and Caring Society" --