Japan’s birthrate is falling. It stands at 1.4 child per women.
This gives Japan the second lowest birthrate in the first world.
And it makes Japan a little like China. Both have a one-child “policy.”
But of course it isn’t in the Japanese case a policy. Because not having babies in Japan is self imposed.
In effect, Japanese wombs are on strike.
One of the factors here is that marriage rates are falling. Fewer people get married and, according to The Economist, “women wait ever longer and increasingly do not bother at all.”
According to the NIPSSR [Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research] six out of ten women in their mid-to late 20s…are still unwed. In 1970 the figure was two out of ten.
The Economist contemplates the several things that might cause this fall in the marriage rate and it’s corresponding “dearth of births.” It may be a matter of wages that they will be paid as part time workers. It may be a matter of finding a husband who makes enough or saves enough to support a family. It quotes Masahiro Yamada, sociologist at Chuo University, who calls young women who refuse to marry “parasite singles.” It quotes Florian Coulmas of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo who says there are “no easy explanations” for what is happening here.
This is really very sad. The Economist, Professor Yamada and Mr. Coulmas are just not trying hard enough. There is a simpler answer. It is not the whole answer, but not to include it as a contributing factor is, well, as I say it is really very sad…and proof of another kind.
Several years ago, (I will be vague on timing to protect privacy), I was doing ethnographic research in Tokyo. (Happily, I’ve done several trips so I think anonymity is relatively protected.)
Before one interview, I found my translator in a spirited conversation with the man I was supposed to interview. As we were leaving this man’s home, I asked my translator what the conversation had been about and she explained that she actually knew this man and he was teasing her for not being married. She was was thirty something, attractive, professional, and in this case unamused. She finished her account of the conversation by saying, under her breath, just loudly enough for me to hear,
And the reason I’m not married is that I would have to live with an asshole like him.
To be sure, this is one data point. But what a data point. There was nothing exceptional about this women. Nothing out of the ordinary, that is to say. That she should harbor this feminist sentiment and deliver it, first to him and then to me, so matter of factly, told me that there are lots of women in Japan who have removed themselves from the marriage market and child bearing for a simple reason: they don’t like the men they would have to marry.
That this factor didn’t make it into The Economist article or into the learned observation of Yamada and Coulmas tells us, perhaps, just how deep the problem goes. Women get it. Men, not so much.
Anonymous. 2010. The dearth of births. The Economist. November 20, pp. 14-15.