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Creating Favorable Workplace Environment for Women Is Key to Reversing Falling Birthrates: 8-Nation Survey [2021/03/30]
What are your views on the current declining birthrate in your country?

The world’s population stood at 7.8 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach 10 billion by 2056, according to the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD). Many developed countries, most notably Japan, have experienced declining birthrates, while developing nations, especially in Africa, continue to see their population grow, making inequality and migration major issues for the international community.

Against this background, The Nippon Foundation has conducted an awareness survey of women aged between 18 and 69 in Japan and seven other countries on the subject of “declining birthrates.”

The online poll was conducted between January 21 and February 3, 2021, covering 500 women each in eight countries: Sweden and Denmark, which have expansive social welfare systems; France, where common-law arrangements and other new forms of marital relationships are increasing; Japan, Italy and South Korea, where declines in birthrates are accelerating; the United States, where the population is expected to continue to grow as a result of immigration; and China, which had a “one-child” policy from 1979 to 2015.

When the survey asked respondents about the declining birthrate in their country, a large majority of women in Japan (79.6%), China (56.4%), South Korea (80.6%) and Italy (73.6%) said they see it as a problem. But it was considered to be a problem by only a small portion of those in the United States (21.8%), Sweden (27.2%), Denmark (37.0%) and France (37.4%).

Chosen as reasons for considering the falling birthrate to be a problem (multiple answers accepted), more than eight in 10 women in Japan (84.4%) said that “the burden on the younger generation, which supports the older generation, will become excessive,” as did 74.1% in China, 73.9% in South Korea and 65.2% in Italy.

Other causes cited by more than half of Japanese women were that “it will put a strain on the finances of public health services and the social security system” (57.5%) and that “it will lead to a smaller population and economic contraction” (56.0%).

Asked whether they think it is easy to have and raise children in their country, women in countries with declining birthrates responded negatively, with 83.0% in South Korea, 71.8% in Italy and 70.2% in Japan saying “no”. On the other hand, a large majority of women in nations where falling birthrates are not seen as a problem answered “yes,” with Denmark leading the way at 81.2%, followed by Sweden (78.4%), France (62.2%) and the United States (54.0%).

Queried how they would rate on a scale of 1-5 (the highest) their own country’s measures in response to the declining birthrate, Japan was rated lowest at an average of 2.2, with South Kore (2.3) and Italy (2.4) also ranked poorly.

Regarding what measures they would like to see their governments take in response to the falling birthrate (multiple answers accepted), the most cited measure by women in seven out of the eight countries (except for China) was “provision of an environment to make it easy to work,” with 75.6% of women in Japan, 71.2% in Italy and 61.6% in South Korea selecting that response.

On how many children they think it is desirable for a couple to have, a majority of women in all eight countries were unanimous in answering “two.”

But they were starkly divided when asked about their views of having babies out of wedlock. A majority of women in the Asian countries−China (68.2%), Japan (66.6%) and South Korea (56.2%)−said they consider marriage to be a prerequisite for having children, whereas almost eight in 10 of their counterparts in the European nations−Sweden (84.8%), France (82.4%), Denmark (82.0%) and Italy (76.8%)−believe it is not a prerequisite.

Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga has said that the declining birthrate has been “Japan's most pressing issue for many years.” To make the matter worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a preexisting downward trend in the nation’s birthrate.

I hope that the government and business community will listen attentively to the voices of people who wish to marry and start a family, and take whatever steps necessary to reverse the declining birthrate. As the survey results indicate, this should include improving the environment for working women, such as by providing more childcare support. In addition, their spouses need to be there for their partners and take on their fair share of childrearing and other duties, and I hope this is something that their employers will facilitate through their policies.

On a scale of 1-5 (the highest), how would you rate your own country’s measures in response to the declining birthrate?

Details of the findings of the survey can be seen here.