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Toward a Society that Supports Child-rearing and Work

Higher Birth Rate in Countries with More Working Women
 
From the 1960s to the 1970s, in the developed countries of the Europe and North America, there was a rise in women receiving higher education and entering the work force, with a concomitant fall in the birth rate. During this era, there was a split between countries that provided maternal leave and implemented other employment policies that assumed that women would work and countries that did not implement measures to support working mothers based on the view that women belong in the home and working women are the exception.
 
The percentage of working women rose even more dramatically in developed countries in the 1980s; at the same time the number of women who continued to work after becoming mothers also rose. Looking at trends in the 1990s, the birth rate has risen in countries where the proportion of working women is high and policies have made it easy for women to work. The countries where it is assumed that women work like Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, and also France, provide daycare and maternity leave. The birth rate in each of these countries is higher than in Japan. On the other hand, Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal can be offered as examples of countries which have not made such support a matter of policy, being relatively conservative and male-dominated and where it is believed that women belong in the home. These countries have a lower birth rate than Japan.
 
Not long ago it was said that women who work should not have children, but looking at the situation in the 1990s, in those countries with a higher percentage of working women, more children are being born. Plotted along the X and Y axes, the rate of women who work and the birth rate are strikingly proportional. In the aforementioned countries where the percentage of working women is high, the birth rate is also high; in countries where the number of working women is low, the birth rate is also low. Japan and Germany, which offer generous support mainly to women in the home, fall somewhere in between these two groups.
 
Providing support to working women is being called one way to stem the falling birth rate because countries that have set up institutions that allow women to work and raise children have rising birth rates. In countries where women are more educated but are expected to remain in the home, as is the case in Spain and Italy, the birth rate has continued to decline, and this decline is likely to continue steadily. Although it cannot be said that a policy change would result in a rise in the birth rate, the birth rate could at least be expected to stop falling.
 
An Era in Which It Is Impossible to Be a Full-Time Homemaker
 
Because the premise of the full-time homemaker is contingent upon whether or not one's husband is a man with sufficient economic power to support his wife and children, a woman does not have the option of being a full-time homemaker when her husband is a man without economic power. Japan, like Western European and North American countries, has entered a period of slow economic growth, but irrespective of the question of whether women should be full-time homemakers or not, an increasing number of women will not find themselves in an economic situation that allows them to do so. When such people become the majority, we will be in an era in which women will have to work, and the time is upon us when we will have to create an environment in which women will be able to enjoy working and spend enough time with their children.
 
Since the latter half of the 1980s, the real wages of men have dropped, and the unemployment rate has risen. Also, because of our aging society, the tax and social security burdens have increased. The number of men who can fulfill the traditional model of the sole breadwinner and support their wife and children is decreasing. In many households, the reality is that unless both parents work, the household is not able to raise children in a financially stable environment.
 
As the upheaval of corporate restructuring has shown, the era when the family in Japan could depend solely on the salary of the husband is surely over. It is very risky to place all of the responsibility for household income on the male alone. We must create a pattern in which men and women both work, or if there is an emergency in the household, take turns working.
 
Also, as to the question of why there should be support for Japanese women who work, this is because while unemployment is now high and there is a labor surplus, from around the year 2005 the working population will decrease and there will clearly be a labor shortage. In the year 2015, one out of four Japanese people will be over the age of 65. Each elderly person will be supported by 2.5 people between the ages of 16 and 64.
 
However, because 98% of students receive some high school education, and the percentage who go on to college and vocational school is rising, the majority of young people will not begin working until age 20. Moreover, half of those projected as part of the productive labor force are women. Supposing men alone are to support society, and women remain in the home, looking in the future, Japanese society takes on an untenably dangerous aspect. Increasing the workforce by even one person becomes a social necessity.
 
The Diversification of Working Styles and Childcare Assistance
 
The "Angel Plan" of 1994, an emergency five-year childcare plan, began as the centerpiece of childcare assistance. This arose from a complementary stance that, although it is common for mothers to stay at home with their children, there must also be support for working mothers because the number of working mothers is increasing. There was more active support after a report released in 1997 by Council on Population Problems, under the Ministry of Health and Welfare inquiring into population problems. Because of the seriousness of the declining birth rate, the commission met again in February of 1997.
 
In its meeting, various people of diverse points of view gave their opinions: not only those in favor of women in the labor force but also those who opposed support for working mothers with young children and the expansion of daycare. Heated debates were quite frequent, and they were repeated in public. As a result, the Council on Population Problems came to the conclusion that "the cause of the declining birth rate lies in the way that Japanese society has been up to now".
 
During Japan's period of high growth, the gender-based division of labor and work involving self-sacrificingly long hours seemed an appropriate way of family life and work style. The very structure of Japanese society was not able to adapt to the dramatic change in the make-up of the population, and this brought on the declining birth rate.
 
In fact, married working women have around the same number of children that full-time homemakers have. In other words, the low birth rate cannot be blamed on working married women not having children. There is, in fact, a growing number of women who do not get married.
 
For example, the majority of full-time homemakers are in large cities where there are a large number of men with economic power. Rural Yamagata, Fukushima, and Toyama are well-known areas where almost no able-bodied young wives stay at home. The biggest reason for this is that men's income is low. An awareness that both men and women have to work is ingrained. While it is enjoyable, and there is satisfaction in earning one's own income, rural women work to support their lives, rather than for self-actualization.
 
Furthermore, the biggest reason that rural mothers work is because they want to have children, and they want to give those children an education. They want a lot of children, or at least one. And, if possible, they want to send those children to junior college or university. Both spouses work to give their life stability, earn enough money to pay school expenses, and nurture their children in this environment.
 
Consequently, the Council on Population Problems report and a white paper published by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 1999 both stated that as the lifestyles of individuals grow more diverse, long working hours and gender-based division of labor are obstacles to the aspirations of the women of today. As long as these issues are not resolved, ours will not be a society in which women will be able to hope for marriage and children.
 
I propose the following three solutions. First, self-sacrificing work styles should be reformed to allow more diverse working styles, such as shorter work hours while children are small, changing to full-time work when they are older. Second, there should be cooperative child rearing with more involvement by the husband. This requires work styles that will allow fathers to participate in child rearing. There should also be an end to the gender-based division of labor both in the work place and home. Third, we need more support for child rearing, primarily in institutions like day care.
 
The Establishment of a Desirable Japanese Model
 
The difficult situation that children now face is not poor mothering, but that there are fewer children in society and environments that are nurturing to children are disappearing. Nowadays it is said that it is the children who go to day care, rather than those who stay at home, who are able to play with other children and are given the chance for a good start in life. This has been talked about in day care circles for some time now, but the point was made very clearly in the report by the Council on Population Problems. Overturning a way of thinking that has been common up to now, it said that child rearing that involves not only the mother, but various day care services and the local community rather than just the mother alone is most desirable for the child's development.
 
What is also being said in the European Community is that day care is a place that assures varied exposure and development that today's nuclear family and local community cannot offer. Day care should not be a place that is used just because there is no alternative; it should become a child rearing environment that is actively coordinated with the local community. This is how the role of day care is changing.
 
However, now the addition of extended-hours day care and evening day care are being called for, and kindergartens that include day care have started, but I also feel some doubt about the inexorable spread of this kind of sustained day care. Both the mother and father should be cutting back on work, and being able to come home early. Among the developed countries, it is only Japan where parents with young children work such long hours.
 
Also, presently, Japan still has a gender-based division of labor, and a large number of women would rather be full-time homemakers while raising their children if economics permitted. Still, as we saw above, considering the economic conditions and working styles in the future, it will be difficult to create social systems that will increase the number of full-time homemakers. However, on the other hand, because it is difficult to rear children under the present conditions of the workplace, there are many women who do not want to work if they have young children. This is probably the reason that young women do not get married, and are remaining unmarried.
 
Therefore, society must create jobs where shorter working hours are valued, and we must take another look at Japan's employment practices in order to make possible a variety of lifestyles, such as valuing women highly and making it possible for them to return to the work place. Furthermore, we should work toward a Japanese model that is based on a reality that allows families to enjoy child rearing at home while also making use of child care and educational facilities like day care and nursery schools.
Profile

Maeda Masako
Maeda Masako is the vice-chair of research at Life Design Research Institute. She was born in Osaka in 1960. After graduating from Waseda University in 1982, she worked as a staff of a government organization, she served as a researcher at Matsushita Politics and Economics School, and from 1992 to 1994 went to the United States with her family, where she did graduate study. There she made on-site observations of conditions in day care in the United States. First-hand experience of the difficulties of finding day care, and the prejudice against working mothers, alerted her to the problems surrounding day care. Her publications include Hoikuen wa, ima (Day care centers today), and Shoshika jidai no hoikuen (Day care centers in an era of low birth rate) published by Iwanami Shoten.
Maeda Masako (2000). Kosodate nimo shigoto nimo yume no moteru shakai wo (written in Japanese). Tokyo: Child Research Net. Retrieved January 19, 2001, from the World Wide Web.
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