FACE OF AN ECONOMY: Japan’s fertility problem and a demographic time bomb

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A Journal of People report

Japan is facing a graver fertility problem.

A report by Chris Weller in Business Insider said:

“It’s the kind of stat you might casually tell a friend at a bar: For the last six years, Japan has sold more adult diapers than baby diapers.

“But Japan’s fertility problems are far more grave than toilet-related trivia.”

The “How Japan can solve its huge sex problem, according to a political scientist” headlined report said:

“Over the last decade, Japan has seen its elderly population swell, new family-planning stall, and its economy shrink because of persistently low spending.

“Economists are now calling the situation a ‘demographic time bomb’, and some Japanese researchers have even created a doomsday clock that ticks off the seconds until Japan’s population extinction.

“But according to one political scientist, all hope isn’t lost so long as Japan starts paying closer attention to half its population.”

The February 3, 2017 datelined report said:

“Japan’s government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has taken some small, creative approaches to encourage young people to start families. It’s hosted speed-dating events, held fatherhood seminars where bachelors play with dolls, and pushed large companies to give people more time off at work.

“Those measures may be helpful in the short-term, says Yale University political scientist Frances Rosenbluth, but to really address the demographic time bomb, more profound changes are in order. In particular, the government has an obligation to recognize the value women bring into the labor force, according to Rosenbluth.

“Whether it’s through tax breaks for hiring female managers or increasing parental leave for fathers, companies need a greater financial incentive to improve people’s work-life balance. Only then, when people have more disposable income and the free time to date, get married, and start families, will the economy get back on track, says Rosenbluth.”

It said:

“As it stands, however, Japanese women don’t have much incentive to have kids. Women start out making roughly the same as men, Rosenbluth says, but a demanding work culture quickly forces them to choose between motherhood and professional success as they hit their late 20s and early 30s. As a result, women in Japan make about 30% less than men.

“‘The Mommy penalty is big,’ Rosenbluth tells Business Insider. In response, women have begun choosing their careers over children. Men, in turn, have receded from the dating scene, too.

“Japan’s work-heavy culture developed in the aftermath of World War II, when loyalty became a hallmark of employment. In exchange for companies agreeing to keep employees on for life, employees vowed to commit the whole of their time and effort to their career.

“As a result, women who now decide to become mothers end up paying a price: They are seen as less valuable to a company and have a harder time scaling the corporate ladder.

“That’s why bottom-up policies won’t work, Rosenbluth says. The problem is with the culture of lifetime employment and the consequences of people who don’t buy into the system. ‘If there’s someone who’s willing to work around the clock, the promotion is not going to go to the cool dad who’s playing with his kid on the playground,’ says Rosenbluth.

“‘What the government has to do, and there’s no way around it, is subsidize the cost to firms of hiring women,’ she says. ‘This is a hard thing for center-right government to do, because it’s socializing the cost of family work.’”

The report said:

“According to recent surveys, that may be just what younger Japanese people are looking for. In 2010, 86% of men and 89% of women said they planned to marry some day, but in 2016 many said they were resorting to pairing off with friends. Without enough time to date, the evidence suggests, even the interest to do so has started to disappear.

“According to Rosenbluth, it’s up to the federal government to cater to those needs and foster new attitudes among older working citizens. Businesses will need to break tradition and start rewarding people ‘who aren’t working around-the-clock,’ she says. ‘That’s a hard one.’”

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The “demographic time bomb”

“Centuries ago, Japan created a word called ubasute. Translated as ‘granny dumping’, it described the practice of poor citizens bringing their senile elders to mountaintops because they can no longer afford their care. Today, amid Japan’s widespread demographic and economic woes, ubasute is making a comeback”, said a report by Chris Weller.

The January 30, 2017 datelined report in Business Insider said:

“Modern-day granny dumping doesn’t involve hauling seniors up the sides of mountains, but driving them to hospitals or the offices of nearby charities and, essentially, giving them up for adoption.

“‘There are a lot of people who have a certain amount of income but who still live in poverty and struggle terribly with relatives who can’t look after themselves,’ social worker Takanori Fujita told the Times of London. ‘They are reluctant to ask for help because they feel it’s shameful.’”

The “Japanese people who can’t afford elder care are reviving a practice known as ‘granny dumping’” headlined report said:

“Japan’s economy has been shrinking for the better part of the last decade. Senior citizens have continued aging into their 80s, 90s, and 100s while younger generations have largely stagnated in having children. As a result, there are fewer people to help take care of the elderly, pay for social security, and keep the workforce full.

“Economists have taken to calling the situation a ‘demographic time bomb’.

“There have been a number of related side effects to the demographic time bomb. For instance, the country has seen greater rates of karoshi, or ‘death by overwork’, in which burnt-out employees commit suicide under the weight of job pressure.”

The report said:

“The government has also taken steps to make family life more enticing to people, including hosting speed-dating events, teaching men how to be fathers, and recommending shorter work hours in large companies.

“Granny dumping’s revival signals another side effect of the demographic time bomb. Fujita works in Saitama prefecture, where he said there are roughly 10 abandoned elders per year. That likely equates to a nationwide total in the low hundreds, he told the Times.

“The trend is unlikely to stop anytime soon. There are more people in Japan over the age of 65, as a share of the total population, than at any point in the country’s history.

“As of 2016, elderly people accounted for 26.7% of Japan’s 127.11 million citizens.

“And since 2011, adult diapers have outsold those intended for babies.”

It said:

“Some charities around Japan have begun catering to the new crop of abandoned elders, even setting up ‘senior citizen postboxes’ (offices where people can be dropped off) to standardize the practice as best they can. The charity will then transfer the family member to a local retirement home, where they can receive the care they deserve.

Death from overwork

In Japanese the word is karoshi, or “death from overwork.”

A report by Chris Weller in Business Insider said:

“The latest karoshi victim was 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi, who worked for the Japanese ad agency Dentsu and reportedly logged 105 overtime hours in one month. At work she tried to maintain appearances, but on Twitter she spoke the truth.

“‘It’s 4 a.m. My body’s trembling,’ she reportedly said in one post. ‘I’m going to die. I’m so tired.’

“Takahashi leapt from the company dormitory around Christmas last year. This past Wednesday, Dentsu’s president and CEO, Tadashi Ishii, announced he would resign in March.”

The “A 24-year-old’s ‘death from overwork’ causes Japan to rethink work-life balance” headlined report said:

“Japan’s government has been trying desperately over the past several years to change the cultural attitudes toward work. Earlier this year, prime minister Shinzo Abe launched a ‘work style reform’ panel seeking to make time off more alluring for Japanese workers.

“Though the results have been mixed, some private companies have started to lead the change.”

The December 29, 2016 datelined report said:

“Dentsu, for its part, now forces people to take at least five days off every six months. It also shuts the lights off every night at 10 p.m. as an incentive for people to head home.

“Other companies have opted to shift their allowable overtime hours to the morning. The trading house Itochu Corp. opens its doors at 5 a.m. for anyone who wants to avoid staying late at the office. Employees who show up early get treated to a light breakfast and earn the same extra wages they would have gotten at the end of the day.

“But as Abe’s reform signals, the country has larger issues related to overtime that it must address for the sake of public health.”

It said:

“A report from October, which examined karoshi cases and their cause of death, found that more than 20% of people in a survey of 10,000 said they worked at least 80 hours of overtime a month. And compared with the US, where 16.4% of people work an average of 49 hours or longer each week, in Japan more than 20% do. Half of all respondents said they give up taking paid vacations.

“As per the report, many of the overwork deaths were caused by suicide, heart failure, heart attack, or stroke — all of which can be brought on by excessive stress.

“Other companies have gotten more creative with how they encourage people to work less. At the Tokyo-based nursing care business Saint-Works, employees wear purple capes that display the time they should leave the office — an effort to erase all doubt when the day is over.

“According to the South China Morning Post, people at the company are working half as many overtime hours since 2012 while profits continue to grow year-over-year.

“The research into productivity suggests other firms would see similar gains if they required people to work less. After a certain threshold, extra time spent on tasks doesn’t equate to extra output. As Sachio Ichinose told the SCMP, the extra hours serve only to make people more burned out.

“‘New ideas do not pop up after meetings are extended an extra two to three hours,’ he said. ‘Work becomes productive when it is balanced out with your private life.’

“If the new measures are successful, both employers and their workers will come to take that sentiment to heart.”

 

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