Dai-ichi survey says: Economic concern a factor in decisions on marriage, third children

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.

23 thoughts on “Dai-ichi survey says: Economic concern a factor in decisions on marriage, third children”

  1. The problem with the argument is that if you cut off the flow of reliable news, it will be replaced by fantastically unreliable rumors which will just add to the sense of uncertainty.

  2. Japan had a similar news policy during the WWII. We all know how that turned out.

  3. In the Nikkei’s defense, have you seen Japanese TV coverage of, say, the Hibiya Park homeless camp over the new year, or the forced closure of an old hotel outside Shinagawa Station? They are acting like job cuts are literally the end of the world, and never even try to bring up the concept of an economic cycle or that companies go bankrupt and people lose their jobs all the time. While the media should always report the facts honestly and without sugar-coating, I would agree that the media go way overboard in wringing melodrama and pathos from the poor innocent temp workers.

  4. Interesting post. Last year, Fukui Prefecture got a bit of attention as being the only prefecture where the birth rate (shusshou-ritsu) rose. Apparently they give parents economic incentives to have more than two children.

    Having just had a child myself, I can say that the way that hospital births in Japan are charged makes the initial cost seem relatively high, at least in comparison to the U.S. Out of pocket fees for the parents at the time of birth are negligible (at least for the small sample size with health insurance that I’ve talked to), yet in Japan the cost is hundreds of thousands of yen. Even if the woman is working, she is encouraged to take off the 6 weeks prior to the birth, and then required to take off the 8 weeks following the birth, during which time she has to (depending on her employer) file a grip of paperwork to make sure that she receives whatever stipends her municipality has arranged to offset the cost of the birth. In our case, it was 350,000 yen, but that was only a little more than half of the total cost of the birth.

    As for marriage, as much as the economy may act as an excuse, from what I’ve read on the subject, it’s not actually what prevents them from getting married, unless they are bound to having some sort of staggering glitzasaurus of a wedding ceremony. But as far as just young couples deciding to legally marry via “nyuuseki”, they were reluctant to do this even when times were good under J. Koizumi…

  5. In our case, it was 350,000 yen, but that was only a little more than half of the total cost of the birth.

    If you want to stay in a decent hospital, have a painless birth, and get an individual room afterward (they force you to stay with the baby in the hospital for a full week), you are looking at about ¥800,000-¥900,000 in Tokyo. Every time Tokyo offers more money for women to have babies, these hospitals jack up the fees accordingly. Of course, you can just go to a cheap clinic and pay ¥350,000 but c’mon, this is kinda something worth spending money on.

    Re: Marriage

    I feel like dekichatta kekkon is the main motivator these days. No one will take free will into their own hands but just lets natural processes decide.

  6. Our son was born in Tsuruga, Fukui, in 2002. We received a grant of 300,000 yen (roughly equivalent to $3000.00) as a “baby bonus.” The city of Tsuruga also gave us a 30,000 yen grant to purchase a car seat.

    Fukui enjoys a higher birthrate probably because of the quality of life in the prefecture – it’s a great place to raise a family – as well as the fact that there is higher per capital home ownership there than anywhere else in Japan. This is because there are a higher number of people living in extended families, and, if they aren’t, the prefecture is small enough that you’re going to live close to your parents, who will help out with childcare. If you live in Tokyo or some other large urban area on the Pacific seaboard, you’re often going to be living far away from family and other sources of support, and, what with the higher cost of living in larger urban centres, this will be a problem when you need to return to work.

    Fukui is a cheap place to live, close to family, with better housing and high quality of life – plus that baby bonus. Don’t everybody move there, as I like it just the way it is.

  7. I must admit I have no idea what it costs to birth a child in an American hospital, but considering that quite literally every medical experience I’ve had in Japan cost a tiny fraction of what it would in the US – even considering discounts from insurance – I find it very strange that childbirth would actually cost MORE. What possible reason could there be for this?

  8. Fukui is also one of the ‘less developed’ prefectures of Japan (and one of the few with less than a million people as well). It would not surprise me if it was still generally conservative in the sense of trends (such as changes in demographics) being slower to take off there. I would definitely agree however that Fukui is preferable to live in that Tokyo – since I got the hell out of the big cities as soon as I could.

    “I would agree that the media go way overboard”
    That’s the problem. Media is a business, and if it bleeds it leads etc is their mantra. Impartiality is not as important as what will sell, and drama sells.

  9. Yes, but the broadcast media in particular are heavily regulated in this country, mostly for the good. They are banned from holding overt political biases and can also be penalized for spreading false information in situations such as a national disaster.

    I dont think there should be any restrictions placed on how the media report the economy, but producers should be aware that what they say has consequences. I feel like I’m turning into a Watanabe Tsuneo by essentially arguing for self-censorship, but some of this stuff is just too ridiculous to comprehend.

    Consider the case of the Keihin Hotel in Shinagawa. They closed last year due to insolvency, but the unionized workers decided to refuse dismissal and ran the hotel on their own for months. The creditors successfully got a court to order the hotel closed down, and the police in fact moved in to forcefully remove the employees, to howls of organized protest, giant placards, and massive press coverage. And the press coverage was so sympathetic that in yesterday’s Asahi you had someone writing in that said in paraphrase “I actually stayed at this hotel last year and only realized later on that the people who served me were working despite the hotel being officially closed. I realize that the court’s order to remove them is how the law works, but I was disgusted to see the police remove them so forcefully. I thought this country was supposed to protect employment.” What a bunch of nonsense! Sad thing is the unions are playing right into the hands of the media and doing a good job of staging media-friendly events that make the businesspeople out to be monsters.


    I am sure it doesn’t help that the people talking to the media on the workers’ side are actual workers, while on the business side you pretty much only have the actual CEO of Canon, the epitome of a high-powered oyaji in an expensive suit.

  10. Adamu – you should blog on this theme.

    Here we have a great case study – the tone of much of the discussion of the Japanese media hits on how they do little but plug for the government and big business. In reality, we have a great deal of (sometimes empty headed) bashing of the establishment in favor of the little guy. It could be done right (with context), but that it is being done at all is important.

  11. But what exactly does a wedding cost? If it costs too much to get married, maybe people could try to have a regular cheap wedding (where the people are actually happy for the couple) instead of a “New York style chapel wedding” where everyone and everything is expensive brand name.

    But frankly I think most people just don’t believe in staying married anyway, so they never start in the first place. The only reason to get married is sadly the “dekichatta kekkon” way.

  12. I think you guys are going a LITTLE overboard in talking about the death of marriage in Japan. I know quite a few Japanese couples who have been married over the past couple of years, or plan to soon, without having a kid on the horizon. Sure, numbers are lower, but it’s not like wedding chapels and wedding magazines aren’t still pretty ubiquitous.

  13. OK, let’s go over some facts about Japanese weddings:

    – little-known fact: Getting the Western-style wedding is actually way cheaper than a traditional Japanese one.

    – Part of the reason to have all-out weddings with 100+ guests is because the guests almost uniformly bring cash gifts totaling much more than the per-plate costs. Even though we only had around 40 people at my wedding, we still ended up ahead.

    – To the extent that there is really a problem, it’s that women are getting married later in life, not that they don’t eventually get married or have decided not to. That is just not the case.

    One of the reasons I like to paraphrase the Japanese media is because half the time they actual base their writing on facts. As someone noted about Debito earlier, we in the foreign Japan community often succumb to what I will call here the “Japan Today” syndrome. We see a two-line news story about a supposed trend and then fly off the handle in reaction to this one talking point.

    That Japan is in a crisis is the accepted wisdom and it’s an easy stance to adopt, but that phrase crisis is such a cliched concept as to be meaningless. It isn’t even clear that a falling population by itself is necessarily a bad thing in a country so crowded in its urban centers. I feel like this country is trying to apply a policy model that depends on economic growth to a country where consistent GDP growth will be hard to come by, and on top of it all government finances are out of whack. Poor choices decades ago are coming back to bite Japan. That’s what leads to the government squeezing the social safety net, half-assing labor reform, and all the rest. The lack of imagination and heel-dragging by the political class is staggering. That is just one area I want to keep looking at in this blog.

  14. Personally I’m in favor of population decline, as long as they can figure out how to maintain the standard of living on an individual level. This is obviously the tricky part, especially when the ruling government has spent the last couple of decades putting the nation into debt to maintain their own political power.

  15. I’m indifferent to the problem of stagnant fertility rates, as long as the problems with shrinking labor force are solved with immigrants. So I am not in favor of population decline, especially when we’ve got an increasingly geriatric country on our hands.

    Marxy’s pricing of the average hospital fee for a birth is pretty spot on from what little I have shopped around. Expensive places are expensive: Dr. Sakamoto or St. Luke’s apparently both cost north of a million yen. We paid 550,000 for a nice clinic, private room, but not painless. So it’s a pretty penny for anyone to pay in lump sum for one month, let alone a household that is transitioning from DINKs to SIOKs (single-income, one kid).

    Friends I have stateside paid 10 or 15 dollars out of pocket (I am purposefully ignoring the cost of their monthly health insurance premiums), and so the cost of the birth never became a deterrent. That being said, those who work don’t usually take the 6 weeks off beforehand, and are back at work in less than 6 months.

    Not helping the population decline is also the delusion that pets are substitutes for children. Pet cemeteries, pet strollers, pet yoga…if there are aliens are looking down at the Earth, they must be damn confused as to who’s running the show down here.

  16. little-known fact: Getting the Western-style wedding is actually way cheaper than a traditional Japanese one.

    I disagree. As long as you don’t go Meiji Jingu or Togo or something, jinja’s are super-duper cheap and really nice.

    Even though we only had around 40 people at my wedding, we still ended up ahead.

    Yeah, I can’t imagine the price of weddings being a major reason why people don’t get married. And a lot of young couples don’t have the wedding party until way after being married on paper.

  17. “I’m indifferent to the problem of stagnant fertility rates, as long as the problems with shrinking labor force are solved with immigrants.”

    Immigrants would be cool, as would robots. I’d be happy to live in a Japan with a lot more ethnic neighborhoods in a couple of decades, but a Replicant ghetto would be pretty sweet too. Of course, they probably wouldn’t have very good restaurants.

  18. “If it’s robots you want, they’re in the Imperial Palace.”

    That’s not fair. Robots display more life and personality. And have more autonomy.

  19. “…a Replicant ghetto would be pretty sweet too. Of course, they probably wouldn’t have very good restaurants.”

    Dunno about bad restaurants. I’ve always liked lots of grease in my food.

  20. Re:Imperial Family=Robots

    Oh,no.I talked two of them in my life.Both were quite entertaining people.

  21. “but a Replicant ghetto would be pretty sweet too.”

    ADPolice / Ghost in the Shell replicant ghetto = bad

    Thai food = good

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