Speaking of juicy bits, last week the Nikkei evening edition ran a feature in its “Living” (seikatsu) section, reviewing the results of some of the recent research coming out of Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
During a “monitor” survey (which polls a pool of pre-registered respondents who match a desired profile) conducted in summer 2008, the institute noticed some starkly negative comments in the free answer sections, such as this unmarried, 30-year-old male: “My income is not sufficient to get married. At my current income, I could not even pay my children’s school expenses” or this married woman aged 33: “I want another child, but I am very uneasy in terms of the economy, such as rising prices.”
Noticing that they had never bothered to gather data on how many people think this way, in late September (in the panicky period just after the Lehman collapse) Dai-ichi polled a nationwide sample of 800 men and women aged between 25 and 39 on their attitudes.
The results indicated that an economic downturn had a bigger-than-expected effect on young people’s attitudes toward getting married and having children.
Two thirds of unmarried respondents felt that it will become economically more difficult to get married, and that figure grew among those who felt the economy will worsen over the next few years. More than 90% of married respondents felt that a weaker economy would make raising children more difficult. Most strikingly, married people with two children who feel uneasy about the economy overwhelmingly felt it would be harder to have a third child in a weak economy.
While the above study sounds like front-page material for Duh Magazine (sounded way more interesting when I read it on the train last week), it’s an interesting indication when you consider that Japan’s birth rate (measured using the total fertility rate) closely tracks the rate of economic growth, only the birth rate lags GDP growth by about two years. Also, there is a negative correlation between the unemployment rate and the birth rate.
As might be deduced from the above findings, the government’s ongoing measures to fight the declining birth rate (which focus heavily on daycare subsidies and work-life balance policies), while important, may not succeed without ensuring stable employment and a reasonably bright future.
Interestingly, the article closes out with a warning to the mainstream media – overly dramatizing stories on layoffs of vulnerable temp workers and wage cuts may be “heightening average people’s sense of alarm more than necessary” even though most people’s jobs and life plans are more or less intact.