The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part One – Numerical Targets for Childcare Leave
J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
This is the first in a series of articles on the social and economic impact of the declining birthrate in Japan.
On 9 November 2002, the Asahi Shimbun reported that the government is planning to submit legislation in January 2003 that will require local government and large companies to draw up action plans to meet numerical targets for the uptake of Childcare Leave (ikuji kyuuka). This is part of a new government policy to combat the declining birthrate. The proposed law would make it compulsory for local government and businesses with over three hundred employees to draft concrete measures for attaining the government's Childcare Leave targets of 80% uptake for women and 10% for men.*
The uptake goal for women may be achievable, but the 10% threshold for men will present a tough challenge. At present, less than half a percent of male employees take Childcare Leave. Currently, both mothers and fathers are legally entitled to take Childcare Leave up until their child's first birthday. An allowance is payable when the leave is taken which equals about 40% of regular pay. This consists of 30% during the leave and a 10% lump sum upon return to work.**
According to a 1999 national survey, female uptake for Childcare Leave for all enterprises with over five employees was 56.4%, but the same survey showed only a mere 0.42% of males taking the leave. Furthermore, the number of men applying for parental leave has slightly declined in the past five years. A 2001 survey showed only 0.3% of male public employees taking the leave, while a 1997 report by the Women's Bureau of the Ministry of Labor had shown that 0.6 percent of male workers took paternal Childcare Leave in fiscal 1995.**
To try to reverse this trend, the government has decided that setting specific targets is the best means for achieving its goal. There has been strong resistance from industry and local government to the state's new policies, especially the numerical targets for Childcare Leave. Priority has now been shifted away from the earlier "Angel Plan" (enzeru puran) that focused on providing daycare for the children of working parents. The latest approach now incorporates strategies designed to improve workers' lifestyles and shorten their hours of employment. The new policy is entitled "Plus One Proposal to End the Low Birthrate" (shoushika taisaku purasuwan), or "Plus One" for short.
According to a nationwide survey published in February 2001, the main reasons why men do not take paternal leave are (i) they are too busy at work; (ii) they cannot afford a reduction in income; and (iii) their employer would be unsympathetic to them taking leave. The Plus One policy is designed to create an atmosphere more conducive to taking the leave, which will address concerns (i) & (iii). The low levels of remuneration (ii) are also a key factor in deterring men from taking the leave as their salaries are normally higher than their wives. Families normally try to minimize income loss, which means that from a financial standpoint a mother taking Childcare Leave is less costly than if the father takes it. The amount of compensation given for taking the leave is another area the state will have to tackle if they are going to achieve their targets. ***
Business leaders fear that the new proposals will put up costs and hinder business competitiveness at a time of severe economic downturn. The business community also doubts whether the government's plans will actually have any impact on the ongoing demographic shifts. However, given the fact that even the most optimistic population projections all indicate that Japan is going to have a very steep decline in its working population, the state has little option but to adopt radical measures.
* Shoushika taisaku koudou keikaku, jijitai ya kigyou ni gimu
[Declining birthrate action plans, to be made obligatory for local government and business]
Asahi Shimbun 9 November 2002
** Paternal Childcare Leave in Japan 2002
Social Trends: Series #5, GLOCOM Platform, 5 September 2002
*** Maternity Leave and Childcare Leave: Parental Attitudes
J. Sean Curtin, NBR'S JAPAN FORUM, Thursday 13 December 2001