We’ve spoken many times on this blog of Japan’s worsening demographic situation. Its current fertility rate is 1.43 children per woman – well below the “replacement” rate of around 2.1. The population has declined each year for the last eight years and is expected to continue to do so into the foreseeable future. This has the Japanese Government worried.  

As the Japan Times reports, the Government has just adopted a “policy outline for countermeasures for a society with a chronically low birthrate” which includes some rather interesting proposals. The most notable is that it seeks to change the cultural attitudes that Japanese men bring to family life and housework. Apparently, the amount of time that Japanese men spend on child-rearing and other domestic chores is among the lowest amounts in the world. If you have a child younger than 6 years old at home and you are Japanese man you will spend one hour and seven minutes a day on child-rearing and housework. The average for men in a similar position in the USA and Europe is about three hours. The policy outline states that “men’s limited participation [in child-rearing and domestic duties] is a major factor behind the low birthrate” and then outlines a set of priority tasks for “reforming the way of working,” such as rectifying the practice of working long hours. The Japan Times notes that: 

“According to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the more time a husband spends on child-rearing and other domestic tasks, the more likely the couple is to have at least a second child. It is reasonable that the policy outline has come out with a target of raising Japan’s figure to two hours and 30 minutes a day. The outline also calls for increasing the percentage of men who take paternity leave for child-rearing to 13 percent from the current 2 percent. Another goal has been hammered out of raising the percentage of men who take paternity leave immediately after their wives give birth to 80 percent.”

With more and more Japanese women active in the workforce, it is understandable that a more equitable sharing of the household duties and childrearing between men and women is desirable to make having more children more appealing to Japanese couples. However, one wonders how much the Government can do to get more Japanese men mucking in for longer each day at home. The laws relating to paternity leave etc can be changed and men can be given more time to be at home. But will they help once there? Are there deeper societal changes that need to occur so that “women’s work” becomes “family work” in Japan? 

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...