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2009年6月 4日 (木)

出生率1・37 確かな回復軌道に乗せるには

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jun. 4, 2009)
More support needed to increase fertility rate
出生率1・37 確かな回復軌道に乗せるには(6月4日付・読売社説)

The nation's fertility rate has edged up, continuing a trend.

According to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry statistics for 2008, the estimated number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime stood at an average 1.37, up 0.03 points from the previous year.

The figure has now risen for three straight years.

Last year, 1.09 million babies were born and about 730,000 couples got married, both figures showing a small increase from the previous year.

However, the fertility rate still remains at an extremely low level of below 1.4. In addition, the increased number of babies born in 2008 is mainly attributable to the extra day gained due to it being a leap year.


Recession may see births fall

The drastic economic deterioration that began in the second half of last year may prove a major obstacle to improving the fertility rate in the future.

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research has projected that the fertility rate will remain around the 1.2 level over the next 50 years or so, and the nation's population will continue to decline.

Is it possible to reverse this projected fall?

Now that the fertility rate has somehow recovered to nearly 1.4 after hitting a record low of 1.26 in 2005, we are at a crossroads.

Breakdowns of the 2008 data on births showed that the number of couples having a third child rose. We believe this is a positive sign--an increasing number of parents who already had two children decided to have one more to realize their dreams.

On the other hand, the number of the first and second children declined from the previous year. This drop can mainly be attributed to population shrinkage in the age demographic in which a woman might be expected to have a baby.
We suspect, however, that the current social and economic situations are making many young people reluctant to marry, and even if they do so, they find they are barely able to raise one child due to social and economic reasons.

It will be necessary to extend more support in the fields where policy measures have proven to be effective, while taking bold new steps in areas where effects are yet to be seen.

Nevertheless, the budgets allocated to measures to address the declining birthrate have been far from sufficient.

While member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development earmark, on average, 2 percent of their gross domestic product for child- and family-related assistance, the figure is a mere 0.8 percent in Japan.

The government has determined that more than 2 trillion yen in fiscal resources will be needed to pay for much-needed support measures for child-rearing.

This amount could be secured with the revenue raised by a one percentage-point consumption tax rate rise. In this respect, the consumption tax should be renamed the social security tax as soon as possible, with a view to tackling the declining birthrate.


Give minister increased powers

The current administrative system in place to address the declining birthrate does not function well, either.

Although the state minister in charge of declining birthrate answers to the Cabinet Office, the current minister has both a limited budget and number of officials at her disposal. The minister, in effect, plays the role of coordinator of opinions among the concerned ministries and agencies, including the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

If the government intends to regard taking measures to stem the declining birthrate as a key agenda for the nation, it will be necessary to create a strong organization that has the power and means to tackle all of the various issues involved.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 4, 2009)
(2009年6月4日01時30分  読売新聞)


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