Below-Replacement Fertility in Japan: Patterns, Factors, and Policy Implications



Fig. 5.1
Total fertility rate (TFR), Japan 1947–2010 (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research 2014, pp. 50–51)



The two fertility transitions in postwar Japan are different in character and are associated with different demographic factors. The earlier fertility decline occurred not only among women in their prime reproductive years (age 20–34), but also among those age 35 and above (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research 2014, pp. 57–58), thereby suggesting a shift from a pattern of prolonged childbearing to one of deliberately stopping childbearing well before the onset of natural sterility. In contrast, the fertility decline to below-replacement levels involved a marked decrease in fertility among women in their 20s, but among women in their 30s fertility actually increased, reflecting delays of marriage and childbearing.

An examination of changes in the age pattern of women’s marriage suggests that decreasing marriage has played a major role in Japan’s fertility decline to below-replacement levels. After modest decreases during the earlier postwar fertility transition, the proportions never-married among women in their 20s and 30s were relatively stable until the mid-1970s when they started to rise precipitously. Among women age 25–29, the proportion never-married jumped from 18 % in 1975 to 60 % in 2010. Over the same 35-year period, the proportion never-married among women age 30–34 rose from 8 to 35 %, while among women age 35–39, the proportion never-married rose from 5 to 23 %. Among Japanese women, the celibacy rate, or proportion never-married at age 50, rose from 5 % in 1995 to 11 % in 2010.

The tendency toward delayed marriage or non-marriage is even more evident among Japanese men. Among men age 25–29, the proportion never-married rose from 48 % in 1975 to 72 % in 2010. Over the same period, the proportion never-married among men age 30–34 rose from 14 to 47 %, and among men age 35–39, the proportion never-married rose from 6 to 36 %. The celibacy rate for men increased from 2 % in 1975 to 20 % in 2010. This extremely rapid expansion of the population of single, middle-aged men (and, to a lesser extent, women) has profound implications not only for Japan’s population, but also for its economy and society as a whole. Given a very low level of out-of-wedlock childbearing—around 1–2 % of all live births since 1960 (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research 2014, p. 67)—these unmarried men and women are likely to have no children to depend on in their old age. As Japan’s social security and welfare schemes have been designed with family as the primary safety net, a proliferation of single, childless elderly people will certainly pose serious challenges for the country’s social systems.

The declining marriage rate is confirmed by sharp increases in the singulate mean age at marriage (SMAM) for both sexes.2 According to Japanese census data, the SMAM was relatively stable until 1975, when it started to increase, rising for women from 24.5 years in 1975 to 29.7 years in 2010 and for men from 28.7 years to 31.2 years over the same period.3 Although several European countries, such as Sweden, Germany, and Spain, had comparable or even higher SMAMs in 2010 (UNECE 2013), the mean ages at first marriage for Japanese women and men are among the highest in the world today.

Altogether, these numbers clearly indicate the rise of late marriage and non-marriage among Japanese women and men at reproductive ages since the mid-1970s. In the Asian context, where marriage has traditionally been universal and most women have typically married by their mid- to late twenties (Smith 1980), the increasing postponement or avoidance of marriage among young Japanese is indeed remarkable and has profound demographic and socioeconomic impacts.4 With little childbearing outside marriage, delayed marriage and increasing non-marriage lead to delayed and less childbearing. As shown above, dramatic fertility declines to very low levels among women at prime childbearing years occurred at the same time as the sharp increase in proportions never-married among women in their 20s and 30s. This implies that decisions regarding marriage and childbearing are likely to be interdependent for young Japanese women and men. Put differently, they may be delaying or forgoing marriage because they do not (yet) want to have a child.

Turning to marital fertility, the mean completed family size of Japanese wives at reproductive ages has shown signs of decline in recent years. Based on time-series data drawn from Japan’s national fertility surveys conducted from 1977 to 2010 (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research 2012b, pp. 28–37), the average number of children ever-born declined moderately but steadily from the early 1990s to 2010. Nevertheless, among wives married for 15 or more years (i.e., couples considered to have finished their family building), the average family size generally corresponds to the average intended number of children (around 2.0–2.3 children per couple). This suggests that although the completed family size of Japanese couples has been decreasing, couples in general are having as many children as they plan to have.

By contrast, the average ideal number of children (that wives report as ideal for themselves and their husbands) is considerably larger than the average number of children that couples actually have, although the number tends to be somewhat smaller among recently married couples. Among all married couples, the ideal number of children averaged 2.7 in 1987 and 2.4 in 2010. The corresponding number decreased from 2.5 to 2.3 among those who have been married for less than 5 years (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research 2012b, pp. 28–30). Altogether, it appears that a considerable proportion of Japanese couples do not have as many children as they want (see Tsuya et al. 2013b).

In summary, the findings presented in this section suggest that we have to examine the social and economic correlates of declining marriage to explain Japan’s below-replacement fertility since the mid-1970s. In the following sections we will look at changes in educational attainment and employment—socioeconomic factors thought responsible for changing marriage behaviors of young Japanese women and men. To explore a possible factor associated with declining marital fertility, we will also compare men’s and women’s contributions to housework with hours employed outside the home in order to show the changing relationship, or lack thereof, between work and family life among Japanese couples.



Trends in Women’s and Men’s Economic Opportunities


To explore the socioeconomic factors underlying decreasing marriages, we first look at changes in educational attainment of young Japanese women as compared to their male counterparts. According to existing studies (Raymo 1998, 2003; Tsuya 2009, 2012; Tsuya and Mason 1995), young women’s increasing educational attainment is a major factor that has caused delayed and fewer marriages in Japan since the mid-1970s. Table 5.1 shows changes, by sex, in the percentage of graduates advancing from junior high school to high school and on to junior college or 4-year college or university. Because Japan’s formal education system is highly competitive, with strong age barriers, people rarely have the luxury of alternating their commitments between education and other activities, such as employment. Economic and social disadvantages accrue for those who do not succeed in a series of structured “contests” at specific time points in their educational careers or at their entrance into the labor market (Brinton 1988; Tsuya and Choe 2004; Turner 1960). As a result, in Japan advancement to higher education and entry into the labor market tend to occur mostly within a narrow time frame, from the late teens to the early twenties.


Table 5.1
Percentages of graduates advancing from junior high school to high school and from high school on to junior college or four-year college/university, by sex: Japan 1950–2010

































































































































Year

Percent advancing from junior high school to high school and from high school on to higher-level education

Females

Males

High schoola

Junior collegeb

Four-year college/universityb

High schoola

Junior collegeb

Four-year college/universityb

1950

37



48



1955

47

 3

 2

56

2

13

1960

56

 3

 3

60

1

14

1965

70

 7

 5

72

2

21

1970

83

11

 7

82

2

27

1975

93

20

13

91

3

40

1980

95

21

12

93

2

39

1985

95

21

14

93

2

39

1990

96

22

15

93

2

33

1995

97

25

23

95

2

41

2000

97

17

32

96

2

48

2005

98

13

37

97

2

51

2010

98

11

45

98

1

56


Monbu-kagaku-sho (2012)

aJunior high school graduates who advanced to high school within 1 year after graduation. Figures include those who were working while enrolled in high school but exclude those who were ronin (literally, masterless samurai; this term refers to graduates who have failed to matriculate and are waiting for another chance to enter a higher-level school)

bPercentages are computed by dividing the number of persons who entered junior college or four-year college/university in a given year by the number of junior high school graduates 3 years before

We can see from Table 5.1 that the rate of educational advancement beyond high school increased sharply for women between 1970 and 1975, which is just before the onset of fertility decline to below-replacement levels. In the same period, high-school education became virtually universal.5 While a similar leap in the advancement rate from high school to university is seen for men in the same period, the male advancement rate shows moderate declines and stagnation from 1975 to the mid-1990s. Furthermore, whereas the female advancement rate to junior college peaked at around 25 % in the mid-1990s, the rate of females advancing on to university has continued to increase rapidly and steadily, reaching 45 % in 2010.

Given the rising advancement rates to higher education, the proportion of young women who are enrolled in or have completed junior college or 4-year college or university has increased sharply, with especially dramatic gains in the 1970s and 1980s. The proportion of women age 20–24 with higher education rose from 6 % in 1960, to 17 % in 1970, 40 % in 1980, and 60 % in 2010 (Sorifu Tokeikyoku 1964, 1973, 1984; National Institute of Population and Social Security Research 2014, p. 175). The proportion of women age 25–29 with higher education increased from 4 % in 1960 to 26 % in 1980, and 52 % in 2010.

These findings suggest that educational opportunities for women have expanded dramatically since 1970. Although the proportion of young men with higher education also increased after 1990 (and is still somewhat higher than that of young women), the increases among women have been steeper and more consistent.

How are these gains in educational attainment among young Japanese women related to their employment patterns? Table 5.2 shows the percentages of female and male graduates obtaining regular employment (full-time employment with job security and fringe benefits) within 1 year of graduation by educational level. The changing percentages from 1950 to 2010 reveal strikingly different trends for the two lower and two higher levels of education. For junior-high-school and high-school graduates, the rate of obtaining regular employment upon graduation declined precipitously in the 1970s and reached low levels in the 1980s and 1990s, presumably due to the rapid spread of higher education. In contrast, the rate of obtaining regular employment among female junior college and university graduates increased steadily from 1970 to 1990, with the gender gap among university graduates disappearing completely by 1990.


Table 5.2
Percentages of graduates obtaining regular employment upon graduation at different educational levels, by sex: Japan, 1950–2010


















































































































































































Sex and year

Percent obtaining regular employment by level of education completed

Junior high school

High school

Junior college

Four-year college/university

Females

1950

44

36


45

1955

41

39

43

68

1960

38

59

50

64

1965

26

63

57

67

1970

16

61

69

60

1975

6

48

73

63

1980

3

46

76

66

1985

3

43

81

72

1990

2

36

88

81

1995

1

23

66

64

2000

1

16

57

57

2005

0

15

67

64

2010

0

13

67

67

Males

1950

46

48


64

1955

43

54

67

75

1960

40

64

80

86

1965

27

58

84

87

1970

17

55

81

83

1975

6

41

76

78

1980

5

40

72

79

1985

5

39

73

79

1990

4

34

73

81

1995

2

28

57

69

2000

2

21

41

55

2005

1

20

51

57

2010

1

18

48

56


Monbu-kagaku-sho (2012)

Note: Figures are percentages of graduates who obtained regular employment (full-time employment with job security and fringe benefits) within 1 year of graduation

During the 1990s, the rate of obtaining regular employment upon graduation decreased dramatically for both sexes and at all educational levels. This was presumably triggered by the burst of Japan’s “bubble economy” at the end of the 1980s, which set the stage for fundamental changes in the nature of the Japanese economy and the types of jobs available to young people. In the early 1990s, in an attempt to increase their competitiveness and profitability in the face of economic globalization, employers began to move away from offering lifetime employment, a long-prevalent feature of the postwar Japanese labor market (Cargill et al. 1997, pp. 91–116). This resulted in rapid increases of temporary employment such as keiyaku (employment under a fixed-term contract with limited provision of social insurance) or haken (contract work whereby an agency sends workers to an organization for a specified period) (Igarashi 2009).

Workers with these temporary jobs tend to be young: 61 % of those employed as keiyaku or haken in 2005 were age 15–34 (Somusho Tokeikyoku 2005). Another notable phenomenon in the Japanese labor market is an increase of so-called “freeta,” young people who do not hold a stable job but rather hop from one temporary job to another (Somusho Tokeikyoku 2005). This deterioration of employment prospects for young people has also occurred in newly industrializing economies in Asia and in many industrialized countries in the West (Imai 1999; ILO 2011; Lee 2010; OECD 2002, pp. 129–69). As in other industrialized societies (Oppenheimer 1994; Oppenheimer et al. 1997), the proliferation of temporary employment has likely had a negative impact on marriage and the family in Japan (Igarashi 2009; Kohara 2010), particularly affecting the marriage prospects of young men with temporary jobs (Tsuya 2012).

To assess how young women and men fare once they enter the labor force, not just immediately after graduating from school, we next look at changes in age-specific labor-force participation rates by sex from 1960 to 2010. As shown in the upper panel of Table 5.3, the labor-force participation rate for women age 25–34 increased rapidly after the mid-1970s. Labor-force participation for women in their 30s still dips somewhat, compared with younger and older women, confirming the well-known M-shaped age pattern of Japanese women’s employment (Brinton 1988), but the drop in labor-force participation among women at peak childrearing ages has become much less notable in recent years. Although there is still a tendency for Japanese women to exit the labor force upon the birth of their first child and re-enter it once their last child enters school, it appears that this pattern now has less influence on labor-force participation rates, largely because of declining marriage rates among this age group. The labor-force participation rates for women in their late 30s and in their 40s has also risen substantially, implying that women at these higher reproductive ages are less likely to be married than in the past and, even if they are married, are more likely to be employed.


Table 5.3
Labor-force participation rates (percent) by age and sex: Japan, 1960–2010






































Sex and year

Percent participating in labor force by age and sex

15–19

20–24

25–29

30–34

35–39

40–44

45–49

Females

1960

50

69

50

51

55

57

57

1965

38

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Jun 25, 2017 | Posted by in GYNECOLOGY | Comments Off on Below-Replacement Fertility in Japan: Patterns, Factors, and Policy Implications
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