Job Stability, Work Reforms Thought Key to Upping Birth Rate

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Masanobu Ogura, state minister for dealing with the low birth rate, speaks at a meeting of government ministries and offices about implementing “extraordinary measures to counter the low birth rate” on Thursday in Tokyo.

Stable employment and reforms in working practices will likely be key in tackling the declining birth rate, a recent survey suggests.

According to an analysis by Daiwa Institute of Research of health insurance data, birth rates for female regular workers rose between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2020, while those for the dependents of insured persons such as non-regular workers and homemakers declined.

The survey’s results suggest that while female regular employees are able to benefit from social insurance and corporate support programs, such as childcare leave, that enable them to maintain a balance between work and family life, such support for non-regular workers and homemakers is lacking.

One 29-year-old woman who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture was able to receive childcare leave benefits when she gave birth to her first son since she was working at the time as a regular employee. Subsequently, she tried to return to work, but gave up as she was asked to work on weekends. When she gave birth to her second son, the woman was not entitled to childcare leave benefits as she was a homemaker at the time. She was shocked at the difference.

“A key to increasing birth rates is whether both husband and wife can work as regular employees,” said Shungo Koreeda, a senior researcher at Daiwa Institute of Research who conducted the survey.

In Japan, economic stagnation following the collapse of the bubble economy and deregulation of the labor market have resulted in an increase in non-regular workers, who currently account for about 20% of all male workers and 50% of all female workers. Non-regular employment is unstable, and comes with lower income and fewer social insurance benefits than regular employment. This causes difficulties for many non-regular workers and keeps them from marrying, which is strongly linked to childbirth.

In France and Sweden, systems are in place that provide childcare benefits to people regardless of employment status, including non-regular workers, self-employed workers, unemployed people and students.

A committee of related government ministries and offices that launched Thursday will consider establishing a new benefit system for non-regular workers and self-employed people who are currently unable to take childcare leave, in addition to examining working practices under which people can balance work and raising children by teleworking or limiting work locations.