Challenges and countermeasuresOnly around two percent of the total number of newborns are born outside of marriage in Japan. Therefore, the government considers the declining marriage rate to be one of the direct factors to determine the country’s birth rate trend. As of 2019, about 4.8 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants were newly registered in Japan, the second-lowest historically. Younger citizens often list financial burdens as the main argument against marriage. As a countermeasure, municipalities currently offer marriage funds to a newly married couple aged 34 years or younger with a low annual household income.
The reluctance of young Japanese to have children is further attributed to a perceived inadequacy of child-rearing support in the country. Some business establishments in Japan, for example, provide no parental leave. Additionally, there is a high peer pressure within a company to be an “engaged employee,” and consequently, of employees with newborns, only about 83 percent of female employees and seven percent of male employees took parental leave in 2019. These numbers also indicate the imbalance of child-rearing responsibilities between men and women in general. The government promotes the active participation of fathers in parenting and proposes reforms to improve the work-life balance of employees who are parents irrespective of gender. Kindergarten and nursery centers also became free of charge for all children aged three to five years and for children aged zero to two years in low-income households effective from 2019. The shortage of nursery centers is, nonetheless, persisting, with many children across the nation still on the waiting lists to be accepted.