The Declining Birthrate as a Social Phenomenon Affecting Children: Research in Japan, China, and South KoreaE
Yoichi Sakakihara, M.D., Professor of Ochanomizu University, Research Center for Child and Adolescent, Development and Education
Keun Lee, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Department of Pediatrics, E Wha Womans University Hospital
Decline in birth rate is a product of multiple factors and it is closely related with other social changes, e.g. increasing number of working women, delayed age of marriage, increase of nuclear families. It is very difficult to separate each of these changes and their impact on growth and development of children.
Working mothers and their only children, with very loose tie with their own parents and non-helping husbands, face various difficulties. Mothers try to pay more attention to their children, want to provide the best education and the best material environment, which in turn put heavy burden on them, psychologically as well as financially. In this situation, some of professional women become reluctant to commit themselves to marriage and/or motherhood. As of children, they have less time with their parents, less chances to socialize with peers and, instead, are pulled into fierce competition of education from very early ages.
Even though it is difficult to extrapolate the impact of these child-rearing environments to the children's future, it is adults' responsibilities to have keen eyes on children and help them so that they can grow up happy.
Jung Han Park, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.Ph., Professor of Preventive Medicine, Catholic University of Daegu School of Medicine, Korea
Total fertility rate (TFR) had declined rapidly from 4.53 in 1970 to 1.67 in 1985 and remained at this level until 1995 in Korea. Since the currency crisis in 1997, TFR started to decline again and recorded 1.08 in 2005.
The direct causes of TFR decline were the postponement of marriage of men and women and the decrease of fertility rate of married women. Underlying causes were the increased educational level and economic activity of women, changes in value system for marriage and child birth, ever increasing cost for child care and education, increased unemployment and job instability, decreased infant mortality rate, etc.
Late marriage and declined fertility rate of married women had resulted in the change of maternal age and parity distribution of newborn children. The proportion of mothers of age 20-29 years had decreased and mothers of age 30 years and older had increased. At the same time the incidence rates of multiple births and low birthweight (LBWt) infants had increased.
The LBWt incidence rate was increased from 3% in 1995 to 4% in 2002. The changes in maternal age and parity distribution had explained 26.6% of the increase of LBWt incidence rate, increase of the multiple births explained 54.3%, and the rest 19.1% was explained by the changes in maternal age-parity specific LBWt incidence rate.
Increase of the multiple births was presumed to be related with more frequent use of assisted reproductive techniques, such as IVF, because the infertile couples are increasing. Two studies had suggested possible causes for the increase of maternal age-parity specific incidence rate of LBWt and they are inappropriate weight control of young women and air pollution.
Suggested counter-measures for increasing LBWt incidence are promotion of marriage and child birth at optimum age of women, practice of single embryo transfer, improvement of neonatal care system for high risk newborns, and appropriate weight control of women.
Nianli Zhou, Ph.D., Associate Professor of East China Normal University, China
China reached a turning point in 1979, when it adopted two new major policies: the Reform and Open-door Policy and the One-child Policy. Both two policies are considered to have had a great impact on Chinese society. Since the One-child Policy was introduced, the number of only-children has increased to about 60 million, and more than 35% of all families now have only one child. Now that the large percentage of one-child households has become a conspicuous phenomenon, issues related to only-children are drawing much attention. In China, 305 research papers on only-children have been written in the past twenty-eight years. Based on this research, I would like to consider the present situation of education in China, a society with a declining population of children.
Since 1980, many fields have produced studies of only-children. The largest number has been in the field of education, 126, followed by psychology with 83 papers. These two fields account for 69% of all papers written. Other fields of research include sociology, demography, and physical education.
Developments in research show two characteristics. First, only-children issues are receiving more attention, and second, the age of research subjects is rising as these only-children grow up.
Chief themes and results
Much of the research compares only-children and non-only-children. The issues and findings can be summed up as follows:
||Are only-children problem children?
||Most of only-children tend to be more timid, more selfish and lazier.
||What personality characteristics do only-children have in common?
||They are more sociable and less introverted. They scored low on tendency to obsession, depression and feelings of fear.
||Is social development of only-children sound?
||They are more group-oriented, have stronger motivation, and are more proficient in social communication.
||Do families with only-children have more problems with child-rearing?
||Families with only-children have closer parent-child relationships, higher expectations for children, and a less authoritarian atmosphere. There were not many families in which children felt excluded.
Consequently, research indicates that China also has problems regarding non-only-children. Some studies report that non-only-children, who occupy a peculiar position in Chinese society, are emotionally unstable and have an inferiority complex. Given this present situation, the education of children in China should be considered from a comprehensive perspective. Some researchers suggest that we should consider issues related to parents/guardians such as their expectations of the child and methods and nature of education as well as the childs innate resilience and emotional intelligence. I propose that we need to give children the most appropriate tools and resources to live their lives fully.
Masafumi Harada, M.D., D.S., Professor of Osaka University of Human Sciences, Japan
In Japan, a concerted effort has been under way to support child-rearing and child care for the next generation since 1995. These efforts, however, primarily focus on helping women reconcile child-rearing with work and lack the perspective that the sound development of children in mind and body should also be guaranteed in this support.
I have completed The Hyogo Report,Ea survey on child-rearing using the same questionnaire as in The Osaka ReportEwhich also took as its subject children born in 1980. I have also published a book entitled Changes in Child-rearing and Support for the Next Generation: Child-rearing and Preventing Child Abuse based on the Hyogo ReportEfrom the University of Nagoya Press.
Children need a certain environment to grow up healthy in mind and body. The findings of The Osaka ReportEmade me seriously concerned about the sound growth and development of children in Japan under the circumstances. The Hyogo ReportEconducted 20 years later showed that the child-rearing situation has continued to deteriorate beyond my imagination.
One problem in child-rearing in Japan is that many parents do not know or come into contact with babies before they themselves become parents. Despite this lack of experience, one-third of all mothers are isolated with their children, raising them alone without any support. The Hyogo ReportEalso indicates that mothers are experiencing greater stress from child-rearing. As a result, some parents resort to physical punishment, which can easily lead to tragic cases of child abuse.
I have been involved in civic activities to support for child-rearing for more than ten years. From these experiences I have become keenly aware of what we need to do; support parents in their role as parents and support children in their development by educating their parents. In addition to this, we have begun a program based on the Canadian parent support program, Nobodys Perfect,Eand are trying to find solutions to these difficult issues. I plan to report on the above situation, using data on current conditions in Japan.