Challenges and countermeasuresOnly around two percent of all newborns are born outside of marriage in Japan. Therefore, the government considers the declining marriage rate a direct factor in determining the country’s birth rate trend. As of 2021, about 4.1 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants were registered in Japan, the 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 high peer pressure within a company to be an “engaged employee” who prioritizes work over personal circumstances. Consequently, of employees with newborns, only about 85 percent of female employees and 14 percent of male employees took parental leave in 2021. These numbers also indicate the imbalance of child-rearing responsibilities between men and women. To tackle this issue, the government is promoting the active participation of fathers in parenting by proposing reforms to improve the work-life balance of employees who are parents irrespective of gender. Kindergarten and nursery centers are free for children aged three to five years in all households, and children aged zero to two years in low-income households, effective from 2019.
Infertility treatmentThe first baby that resulted from external fertilization in Japan was born in 1983. Since then, infertility treatment has become widespread, partly due to the older average age of couples trying to conceive. Roughly 60.4 thousand live births, or one in 14 newborns, were the outcome of assisted reproductive technology (ART) in 2020. The most used and successful ART procedure in the last decade has been the frozen embryo transfer (FET), which uses frozen embryos produced in the earlier cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
From April 2022, all basic infertility treatments, such as timing therapy and artificial insemination, as well as ART procedures like IVF, micro-fertilization, and embryo freezing for women aged 42 years or younger, are covered by health insurance. Women aged 39 years and younger can receive six treatments per planned child under insurance, while those aged 40 to 42 years can undergo three treatments. The government hopes that these measures will ease the financial strain on couples trying to have children using artificial techniques and, as a result, improve the number of live births in Japan in the coming years.