This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Can Japan Really Proactively Raise Its Birth Rate?

The New York Times editorial board had an interesting piece in yesterday's paper in which they were responding to an initiative by the Japanese government to raise the birth rate in order to slow down the country's rate of depopulation. 
The panel [in Japan] suggested various ways of encouraging childbearing. It recommended doubling current government social welfare spending on children, noting that countries that have managed to increase the fertility rate like Britain and France spend more than three times what Japan does. And it said the nation needed to create an environment more conducive to young people marrying and choosing to have children, including, for instance, building many more child care centers.
What really surprised was me that the NYTimes editorial board jumped on this idea whole-heartedly and then took it several steps further to suggest that the Japanese government should endorse out of wedlock births as part of a solution to Japan's birthrate problem. I didn't see that coming! And I find it hard to believe that the Japanese will jump on that idea, either, no matter what the government might say.

Instead, there are voices within Japan--still largely unheard--suggesting that immigration is a solution that Japan needs to try:
The government is in denial over Japan’s looming demographic disaster and adopting unrealistic solutions rather than face the need to accept large numbers of immigrants, a former senior immigration official said Friday.
Hidenori Sakanaka, a former director of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau who now heads the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, said his voice has long gone unheard because an anti-immigration culture exists among Japan’s intellectuals and media.
So, Japan prefers not to entertain the immigration solution and it seems equally unlikely that it will embrace out of wedlock childbearing as a solution--certainly not without a wholesale shift in attitudes toward women which currently limits their ability to be mothers and have a career. I just don't see how having babies outside of marriage is going to solve anything. Immigration, on the other hand, would help. The U.S. has a higher birth rate than Japan not because of the high percentage of births that are to unmarried women. Rather, it is less hostile than Japan to women who want to combine a family and a career and, very importantly, the U.S. has a lot of immigrants who tend to be young adults of child bearing age who come the U.S. and have kids.

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