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Japan Unveils Proposal to Promote Marriage, Raise Birthrate

A Japanese Cabinet minister in charge of tackling the country’s declining birthrate unveiled a draft proposal Friday aimed at reversing the downtrend, including increased subsidies for childrearing and education and a salary increase for younger workers to incentivize marrying and having kids.

Japan’s population of more than 125 million has been declining for 15 years and is projected to fall to 86.7 million by 2060. A shrinking and aging population has huge implications for the economy and for national security as the country fortifies its military to counter China’s increasingly assertive territorial ambitions.

Children’s Policies Minister Masanobu Ogura said the next few years are possibly “a last chance” for Japan to reverse its declining births. If the number of births keeps falling at the rate since the beginning of 2000, the young population will shrink at twice the current pace in the 2030s, he said.

Many younger Japanese have balked at marrying or having families, discouraged by bleak job prospects, corporate cultures incompatible with having both parents — but especially women — work, and the lack of public tolerance for small children.

To address the problems, Ogura’s plan proposes increased financial assistance, including more government subsidies for childrearing, more generous student loans for higher education and greater access to childcare services. It also aims to change the cultural mindset toward more gender equality both at work and at home. The proposal also includes increased government assistance to companies to encourage more of male staff to take paternity leave, which has been a point of contention for working fathers fearing retaliation.

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