Skip to main content

Why the Population Decline, Japan?

The entrance of the Baby Boomers to retirement, and thus the social security payments, engendered much alarm in the United States as concerns about the burden of younger generations to support the huge number of Baby Boomers spread. In comparison to what Japan faces today, however, the US social security “crisis” appears to be laughable. For over five years from 2005 to 2010, the Japanese population increased by a mere 0.2%, and the fertility rate currently stands at -0.1% (the negative sign is not a mistake), the lowest in Japanese history ever since 1920. Should this down slope trend that has continued since 2007 continue, the entire Japanese economy may collapse as the labor force continues to decline and proportion of retired citizens explosively grow.

The reason for the phenomenon is quite simple: women are refusing to marry and/or give birth. Why? The root of the problem leads to the long standing Japanese sexism prevalent in Japanese society. Historically and culturally, societal norms dictate that women are more suited for homemaking (although with recent empowerment of women, the proportion of women entering the workforce has increased). If the women decide to work, then they are expected to fulfill three responsibilities known as “omoni”: responsibility as a mother, responsibility as a wife, and responsibility as a worker. Though the trend has recently seen changes, husbands generally leave all housework such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, and taking care of children to their wives even if they work fulltime. Such a lifestyle is, of course, excruciatingly stressful, and if the wife shows signs of fatigue at work, (mostly male) employers complain “This is why we shouldn’t hire women.” No surprise that married women with children are rarely granted high positions in corporations.

Now, why are women refusing to marry and have children? Here’s why using strategies and payoffs. Women are given five strategies: work, marry, marry and work, marry and have children, or do all three. Two payoffs are defined: happiness of having a family (F) and happiness of pursuing a career (C). And three costs are present: burden as a mother (m), burden as a wife (w), and burden as a worker (k). While individual women’s values for payoffs may be different, surveys and social trends show that as more women are hired, the more women wish to enter corporations to realize their dreams (C > F). Since the payoff C is greater than F, game theory predicts that women then will prefer strategies with C as a payoff (work, marry and work, or do all three). What about the costs of pursuing a career?  If a woman decides to pursue both family and work, then Japanese society expects her to completely fulfill all three “omoni’s” (m, w, and k). The cost, especially that of k, is extremely high because if the woman is perceived as unable to perform her best due to having a family, employers will either prevent her from promotion or fire her (compromising C). That means m and w must be bearable for the woman for her not to lose C. Data show that Japanese women find m+w+k too much to bear singlehandedly, and, therefore, choose strategies that reduce the costs: either work only or marry and work but have no children. In both strategies, children are not produced and population decline worsens as more women decide to work and choose one of those two strategies.

Efforts to address this problem are certainly being placed currently such as Japanese government’s campaigns to encourage the husbands to help out with housework. To truly solve the problem of population decline, however, Japan as a society will have to change its perceptions and expectations of women and strive to create equality in workplace as well as in households to diminish the three costs that discourage women from giving birth.


One Response to “ Why the Population Decline, Japan? ”

Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

September 2011