How to Arrest the Declining Birthrate and Build an Inclusive Society

Fifth webinar in the ‘Otemachi Academia’ Collaborative Course organized by Chuo University and the Yomiuri Newspaper
Taro Miyamoto/ Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Welfare politics
Shiro Yamasaki/ Special Advisor to the Cabinet
Area of Specialization: Social security and population policy

The fifth webinar in the 'Otemachi Academia' collaborative course, organized jointly by Chuo University and the Yomiuri Newspaper, took place on October 19. The course aims to return "valuable knowledge" accumulated at Chuo University to society, and the topic for this webinar was "How to Arrest the Declining Birthrate and Build an Inclusive Society." The population of Japan is currently shrinking at an accelerating rate as the country's birthrate plunges. The underlying theme of the webinar was that under these circumstances, what should be done and what kind of society should be created? Taro Miyamoto (Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University), who specializes in welfare politics, and Shiro Yamasaki (Special Advisor to the Cabinet), who plays a major role in the Japanese government's efforts to deal with the declining birthrate, gave lectures and held a special dialogue.

Depopulation and measures against the declining birthrate: significance of the Myrdal scheme

The webinar started with a lecture by Yamasaki, titled "Depopulation and measures against the declining birthrate: significance of the Myrdal scheme," in which he pointed out that a declining population would lead not only to a shrinking workforce but also to fewer consumers and a smaller market. He argued that the real problem for Japan was the rapid speed and boundlessness of the decline, that countermeasures should be taken to slow down and stabilize the speed of the reduction, and that we had no alternative but to seek to raise the country's birthrate (which reached a record low of 1.26 in 2022).

The birthrate-boosting measures he talked about include increasing incomes and promoting secure employment as part of marriage support, and helping parents achieve a better work-childcare balance while allowing them to maintain their current modes of work. The "unprecedented measures against the declining birthrate," set out by the Japanese government means that the government is going to implement every necessary measure all at once by 2030, rather than doing anything novel. As this inevitably involves attitude shifts in society and the workplace, "inclusive local communities" can be created only when fathers, and communities as a whole, also play proactive roles in bringing up children. Yamasaki also introduced the cases of Sweden and Germany, where the birthrate is rising, noting that the public social expenditure of these countries in the area of family policy exceeds 3% of their GDP compared to 1.95% in Japan.

He also referred to the Myrdal scheme. In the 1930s, when there was political debate about the birthrate in Sweden, Alva and Gunnar Myrdal (Nobel laureates) proposed and led community-oriented family policy, aiming to provide national support for childbirth and upbringing of all children, as well as "investment in the future" for children. He stated that their idea could prove effective in today's Japan as well.

From ways to counter the declining birthrate to the vision of an inclusive society

The lecture was followed by another lecture, titled "From ways to counter the declining birthrate to the vision of an inclusive society," by Miyamoto. He pointed out that depopulation could lead to depressed provincial areas, exacerbated congestion in urban areas, and ill-balanced mutual support between generations in which one younger person would have to support several older people (often compared to being a weightlifter) unlike in the past, when one younger person only had to support one older person (like carrying the person on their shoulders). Japan's declining birthrate is mainly attributable to two causes, namely non- or delayed marriage (falling marriage rate) and having no or fewer children (falling marital fertility rate). He suggested four possible solutions: 1) reducing working hours; and 2) raising wages in the labor market; 3) providing cash payments (such as child benefits); and 4) offering public services (such as childcare support) in the area of social security. His argument was that raising wages was indispensable for lifting the marriage rate, while reducing working hours, providing cash payments, and offering special services were essential for increasing the marital fertility rate.

Sweden, which has succeeded in increasing its birthrate, began to grant childbirth allowances to all its people and put into force policies to guarantee equal pay for equal work and no more than five children per childcare worker as long as eighty years ago. The country has raised the consumption tax to improve the quality of childcare and has brought its people to regard taxes as their "second wallet." According to Yamasaki, it is the thinking of Alva and Gunnar Myrdal that has played a leading role in creating an inclusive society that provides public support to people to allow them to connect to and support each other in pursuit of happiness, rather than relying on self-help or social welfare.

Position of women: a top priority for measures against the declining birthrate

These lectures were followed by a dialogue between Miyamoto and Yamasaki that started with a question raised by Miyamoto. Miyamoto initiated the conversation by saying that although younger generations were often dissatisfied with and critical of the government for various reasons, like their inability to get married even when they wanted to, or insufficient income to have children, the debate tended to revolve around immediate issues, such as burdens and financial sources, so the perspective of "investment in the future" is essential. Yamasaki emphasized that the burden associated with having children was sure to produce returns in the long run for households with children, and that having children should be seen as a beneficial investment when taking into account the net balance between contributions and benefits. He also stressed that policy was like keeping the ball rolling between the government and its people, and that the most important thing to do to cope with this problem was to press ahead.

When Miyamoto stated that "cooperation from businesses" was vital in action against non- or delayed marriage, such as reducing working hours and raising wages, Yamasaki answered that companies, which perhaps lacked awareness of the fact that raising children was their problem as well, should pay due attention to the fact that stimulating the birthrate would increase consumption and children would be future consumers. They then moved on to talk about the position of women. Miyamoto pointed out that it was normally women who are overburdened, struggling to achieve a good work-childcare balance. Yamasaki responded that the issue was "a top priority for measures against the declining birthrate," and there were actually many men and employers who could understand this concept when explained to them. He added that businesses need to speed up their responses, such as by adopting a top-down approach, as Japanese society was quick to move once understanding was established.

Regarding the "creation of an inclusive society," Yamasaki argued that in addition to providing public support and financial sources, the important thing is to be willing to take the initiative in developing interpersonal connections in one's local community and workplace. Miyamoto summarized that the cohesion should not be forced and emphasis should be placed on enabling people to reconnect, or try again and again to make connections, with others in their families, workplaces, and third-places (cafes, parks and other pleasant places to be).

The webinar ended with an online Q&A session, in which participants asked many questions including "What were the results of past efforts against the declining birthrate?" and "What is social security for all generations?" and the two lecturers expressed their opinions and answered these questions.

*Click here for the video of the special dialogue held during the fifth collaborative lecture with Otemachi Academia on October 16, 2023, titled "How to Arrest the Declining Birthrate and Build an Inclusive Society." (Japanese only)

Taro Miyamoto/Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University Area of Specialization: Welfare politics

Professor, Faulty of Law, Chuo University; Professor Emeritus, Hokkaido University, majors in welfare politics. Taro Miyamoto was born in Tokyo in 1958. After earning a doctoral degree from Chuo University’s Graduate School of Law, he acted as a Special Advisor to the Cabinet, Advisor to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, member of the Social Security Council, member of the National Council on Social Security System Reform, and member of the Council for Gender Equality. He is also Editor-in-chief of Monthly Welfare.

His published works include Kyosei Hosho: Sasaeai no Senryaku (Inclusive Security: Mutual Support Strategy) (Iwanami Shinsho); Seikatsu Hosho: Haijo-shinai Syakai-e (Livelihood Security: Towards a More Inclusive Society) (Iwanami Shinsho); Hinkon/ Ikuji/ Kaigo no Seiji: Basic Asset no Fukushi Kokka-e (Politics of Poverty, Childcare and Elderly Care: Towards a Basic Asset-based Welfare State) (Asahi Sensho); and Fukushi Kokka to iu Senryaku: Sweden Model no Seiji Keizai-gaku (Strategy for Welfare State: Political Economy of Swedish Model) (Horitsu Bunka Sha).

Shiro Yamasaki/Special Advisor to the Cabinet Area of Specialization: Social security and population policy

Shiro Yamasaki entered the Ministry of Health and Welfare (current Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) after graduating from the University of Tokyo. He acted as the ministry’s Deputy Director of the Elderly Care Task Force, Director-General for Policy Planning in the Cabinet Office, Executive Secretary to the Prime Minister, Director-General of the Social Welfare and War Victims’ Relief Bureau, and Director-General for Regional Revitalization. He has been engaged in support for the poor and needy, measures against the declining birthrate, regional revitalization and the like, in addition to having been involved in all stages of establishing the nursing care insurance system, from planning to implementation. He was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the Republic of Lithuania in July 2018 and has been awarded “Lithuania’s Diplomacy Star” medal by the Lithuanian government. He has been serving as a Special Advisor to the Cabinet since January 2022 and acts also as Director of the Institute for Population Strategy Studies, International University of Health and Welfare, and a Visiting Professor of Japan Healthcare University.

His published works include Jinko Senryaku Hoan: Jinko Gensho wo Tomeru Hosaku wa Arunoka (tentative translation: Population Strategy Legislation: Are There Ways to Stop the Declining Birthrate?) (2021, Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.).