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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #18: November 22, 2002

The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Two Comments on the Proposed Numerical Targets for Childcare Leave

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University) and Len Schoppa (Associate Professor , University of Virginia)

This is the second in a series of articles on the social and economic impact of the declining birthrate in Japan.

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.


Professor Schoppa: I agree with others that the 10 percent child-care leave take-up target for fathers will be impossible to achieve. An additional reason it will be difficult is because fathers whose wives do not work are not eligible. Only those who have a working wife (I'm not sure how many hours she has to work for him to qualify) can take up paid leave.

Professor Curtin: The basic thinking behind Childcare Leave (ikuji kyuuka) is to allow only one of the parents to take care of their infant child. Therefore, if one of the parents is not working, or only working a few hours part-time, the full-time working parent does not qualify for the scheme. The current system is not modelled on the Swedish idea of allowing a parent to have time off just to be with his/her child. I would imagine that most American and Japanese employers would strongly object to the Swedish approach on grounds of cost and higher taxes.

A Japanese employee who requests Childcare Leave is entitled to such leave if he/she meets all of the following requirements, which are stipulated in the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law. Firstly, the employee lives with and cares for a child (natural or adopted) under one year of age. Secondly, the employee has worked for the company longer than one year. Thirdly, the employee intends to continue working for the company after the period of childcare leave has ended. Lastly, the worker is not employed for a predetermined period.

As professor Schoppa suggests, non-regular workers are not included in the current legislation. The law excludes workers who are employed on a daily basis or on a fixed-term contract. This is a significant exception as the number of employees on fixed-term contracts steadily increased during the nineties with most of them being women.

On the other hand, even if the law were amended to allow a sole working parent to take the leave, it is highly unlikely that most couples could afford to utilize it. Childcare Leave Basic Allowance (ikuji kyuugyo kihon kyuufu kin) pays thirty percent of the regular salary for the duration of the leave. An additional ten percent is paid six months after the mother or father returns to work and is covered by the employment insurance law. The Returning to Work Allowance (shokuba fukki kyuufu kin) is calculated at a rate equivalent to ten percent of the standard daily remuneration.

The staggering of the allowance means that for the actual duration of the leave recipients are only paid thirty percent of their normal monthly income, getting the remainder six months after they resume work.

Additionally, local taxes and other deductions are withdrawn from the employee's salary every month and bonus payments are scaled down or nullified. Bonuses are calculated on a per diem basis over the period of entitlement, but excluding days taken for Childcare Leave. So, not only do you get a seventy percent wage reduction, but your bonus is cut. A sole working parent taking the leave would find it financially costly and a household could probably not manage on such a low income.

Furthermore, under the law, payment of wages is not guaranteed during the period of Childcare Leave and the employer is not legally required to do so. However, the Returning to Work Allowance is paid regardless of whether or not the father or mother was paid during Childcare Leave.

Professor Schoppa: A statistic I saw recently showed that in 2000, just 10.3 percent of mothers with children under 3 worked over 35 hours a week. I assume the number is even lower for mothers of children under one. That number rises to 22 percent if you include part-time working mothers. In order for 10 percent of fathers to take up child-care leave, ALL of those with fulltime working wives would have to take it up. Even if husbands of part-timers were eligible, it is hard to see how many couples could afford to have a father take a 60 percent pay cut while the wife worked part-time! In order to reach this target, Japan needs many more mothers of children under three to stay in the fulltime workforce, but that won't happen until men are free and willing to do much more to help out at home. It sounds a bit like a Catch-22.

Professor Curtin: I have yet to encounter anyone who actually thinks that the 10 percent male uptake target for Childcare Leave is achievable and many people consider it impossible. However, perhaps the government feels it has to set an extremely ambitious/unattainable target in order to make any progress from such a low base. As Professor Schoppa indicates, the number of women in continuous employment is a key element in the equation. The government realizes this which explains why the thrust of current policy is to try to ensure fewer women quit regular employment for childrearing.

It should be noted that in addition to the right to Childcare Leave, the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law requires an employer to take various steps to facilitate childcare for an infant when an employee decides not to take leave and makes a request for assistance in balancing caring and work duties. Family-friendly measures include shorter working hours, the introduction of flextime, a halt to overtime work, making efforts to assist with childcare arrangements, inter alia. From April 2002 the age limit for receiving family-friendly measures has been raised to three years of age. Admittedly, many of these measures are only hortatory, but as increasing female uptake levels clearly show such provisions do eventually influence working patterns. Moreover, despite all their shortcomings, the Japanese legal provisions are light years ahead of the United States and fare well compared to many EU countries.

As Professor Schoppa points out, the number of women in the workforce with young children is still low. As in many Southern European countries, concepts about "intensive mothering" and the perceived needs of infants, strongly influence female working patterns before and after childbirth. However, opinion surveys reveal that attitudes towards childcare for infants is changing and more mothers are returning to work or taking Childcare Leave. Economic factors are also strongly influencing this trend as couples are increasing needing two incomes to weather the economic downturn.

Finally, the issue of declining birthrates is so complex that it could be argued that nobody has the correct solution. History proves that demographic trends are incredibly difficult to control and most policies ineffectual. The current Japanese government approach is following European trends. Numerical targets for Childcare Leave are just one component in an array of measures to combat the declining birthrate. It could be argued that the entire philosophy underpinning government policy is flawed and I will take this issue up in a later article. The only thing we can say for certain is that we will have to wait fifty to a hundred years to check which demographer or policymaker got it right.


Related Reference Articles

The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part One Numerical Targets for Childcare Leave
Social Trends: Series #17, GLOCOM Platform, 18 November 2002


Paternal Childcare Leave in Japan 2002
Social Trends: Series #5, GLOCOM Platform, 5 September 2002


Changing Attitudes towards Gender Roles in Japan: 2002 Snapshot
Social Trends: Series #8, GLOCOM Platform, 24 September 2002

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