“You have to resign.” And roughly 70 percent of Japanese women do, in fact, stop working after child #1.As career-oriented women are turned away from child-rearing, so too are less career-driven men.People often attribute this crisis to Japanese cultural peccadilloes — the country’s fascination with pornography, for instance — or the “usual suspects” in fertility panics, contraception and abortion.There are no doubt multiple causes behind Japan’s baby crisis, but Haworth suggests a more economic explanation: “what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country’s procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense.” “Official shortsightedness” means public policy.Rather than becoming stay at home dads, Haworth documents, Japanese men who don’t want to define their lives by working 20 hour days are simply avoiding marriage for fear of being forced to become the primary breadwinner.The problem goes deeper in Japan’s working structure than Haworth lets on.Second, it’s always important to look beneath the surface when talking about “cultural causes” of social and political problems.Trend piece after trend piece about Japanese sex-and-dating practices ends up reading like the literary equivalent of rubber-necking: “look at how weird those weird Japanese people are!
Since Japanese gender norms still demand that women take charge of child-rearing, women and men alike find it near-impossible to create a work-life balance once kids enter the picture. The obvious solution to this fertility problem, at least based on the American and European experiences, is to massively expand government support for working mothers and women.
Abigail Haworth’s article is peppered with hair-raising statistics about Japan’s breeding crisis.
For instance, 2012 saw the fewest Japanese babies born in recorded history, and 90 percent of young Japanese women believe staying single is “preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like.” It quotes the head of Japan’s branch of the International Planned Parenthood Federation as saying the island nation “might eventually perish into extinction” without more children.
It is known, as they say, Japan is facing a fertility crisis — you know it’s bad when The New York Times runs pieces with titles like “Without Babies, Can Japan Survive?
” The reasons for Japan’s dearth of youngsters have been less clear, but a disturbing new article in The Observer fingers an potentially counterintuitive suspect: Japan’s crushingly gendered social and corporate world.