Give bold support to young generation for child-rearing

To help young people have the hope to embark on marriage and raise children, it is important to boldly expand support programs for child-rearing and ease the financial burdens involved.

The number of births in Japan in the first six months of 2022 fell to 384,942, down by 20,000 from the same period the previous year, according to preliminary figures compiled by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. If this trend continues, the annual tally will likely fall below last year’s record low of 810,000.

The population of the young generation of childbearing and child-raising age has been shrinking due to the long-term decline in the nation’s birth rate. This year’s smaller number of births has probably also been influenced by there being fewer opportunities for young people to meet potential partners, as they were asked to refrain from going out amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Another related factor is a growing reluctance on the part of young people to marry and have children.

At a meeting of the government’s expert panel on building a social security system that can better meet the needs of all generations, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the decline in the number of births was a “critical situation, because the pace has been accelerating about seven years ahead of estimates.” To maintain the vitality of society and the economy, it is essential to put the brakes on this quickening trend.

The key is to provide support to the young generation possibly contemplating getting married and having children. It is necessary to analyze how young people think of these life events and what economic conditions they face so that effective measures can be implemented.

According to a survey of single people and married couples conducted last year by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the average number of children desired among single women ages 18 to 34 stood at 1.79, falling below 2 for the first time since the start of the survey. The figure among their male counterparts also hit a record low of 1.82.

It is true that values in life have become diverse in recent years, with more people not wishing to get married, for example. Even so, it is worrisome that young people are less willing to have children.

The survey also showed that the average number of children considered ideal by married couples stood at 2.25, but the average number of children they actually had was only 1.90. Asked why there was such a gap between their ideal and their reality, the most common answer was “because child-rearing and education cost too much,” chosen by 53% of respondents.

Japan has been going through a long period of slow economic growth, and young people’s incomes have not increased. It is important for the government to encourage a shift from non-regular employment to regular employment and to help raise wages for the young generation. It is also hoped that the government will create an environment in which it is easier for child-rearing households to live, such as by providing financial support for their housing.

Helping women to bear children without worrying about the cost involved is an urgent task. The government is considering raising the lump-sum childbirth and child-rearing handout, which is currently set at ¥420,000 per child in principle. Considering the serious decline in the nation’s birth rate, the government also should consider a scheme to make childbirth expenses free of charge.

Kishida has pledged that the government will “double in the future” the budgets intended for children.

The prime minister’s determination is understandable, but how does he think stable financial resources can be secured for that purpose? Society as a whole must deepen discussions on this issue, with an eye on raising the consumption tax.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 17, 2022)