Preventive Measures for Population Decline: A Family Therapist's View
Akiko NAKAGAMI (President, Happy Print Inc.)
The Japanese government lavishes more than two-thirds of its social security budget for the elderly, while it allocates less than 4% on the areas of childcare. The proportion of those 65 years and older in Japan's population is the fourth largest in the world. This means that the Japan's young shoulder a disproportionately large burden to support the older generation by paying into the national pension program, in addition to already high childcare costs. The present situation poses a clear threat to Japan's family structure, and women in particular bear an unfairly large amount of responsibility. Japanese women are still often coerced to care for the old in their families as soon as they are freed from child rearing. We are all aware of the pension crisis, but childrearing generations have to pay into the precarious system in addition to rising living expenses while their nuclear family structure prohibits them from enjoying the support of their parents. Japanese people's traditional view towards childrearing and caring for the elderly members as primarily women's responsibilities produces almost unbearable social pressure to many women.
Women are expected to marry, have children, and then raise them without adequate education in a society that lacks an established support system for married women. We urgently need housekeepers and babysitters who can provide inexpensive but invaluable support to women who compete with men in labor force and enjoy a relatively high socioeconomic status. A large number of migrant workers from the Philippines work as housekeepers in Hong Kong and Singapore and as care workers in Taiwan. In Japan, those from the island nation are mostly known as entertainers. The government should encourage more people to come and work here as housekeepers and babysitters. They will prove immeasurably more valuable to our society than entertainers. We have so far failed to address the declining fertility, and the same seems to apply to countries known for their aggressive policies designed to tackle the problem.
In Finland, a country with forty years of experience in managing public service and financial aid programs specifically designed for childcare, for example, most who actually receive childcare-leave are women. The disequilibrium in men and women's burden of familial responsibilities in a country is closely associated with the number of children women decide to have in the society. Japan should learn from the experiences of welfare nations to create a society where women can enjoy both work and childcare without too much societal pressure. Inviting babysitters and housekeepers as inexpensive labor force from foreign countries should be a simple and practical means to that end. (Japanese men spend an average of just 7 minutes a day in household chores during the week by Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication in 2001.)