The Political Economy of Japan's Low Fertility

By Frances McCall Rosenbluth | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Political Economy of Low Fertility

FRANCES MCCALL ROSENBLUTH


Introduction

Japan's fertility rate is at a historic low, at 1.25 children per woman on average in 2005 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 2006). This is considerably lower than the population replacement rate of about 2.1, meaning that Japan's population is shrinking. Japan is not alone among industrialized countries in trending downward in population size: Italy, Spain, and Korea rival Japan for the lowest fertility rates on earth, and Europe south of Scandinavia comes close.

Why should we care about low fertility? One oft-cited reason is fiscal health. Governments of low-fertility countries are in a near panic about who is going to pay taxes and social security premia when the demographic crunch produces more retirees than workers. They also worry about what will happen to the economy as the number of consumers shrinks, and about the geopolitical implications of smaller absolute size as a nation. On the other hand, lower population density can, with strong productivity gains, increase per capita income and quality of life and environmental health, and population size has never had a very close connection to national peace and security. The economic problems associated with low fertility can be overstated.

In this book, we are interested in fertility for a different reason: it may be a fairly good indirect measure of female welfare. Peter McDonald and Shigemi Kono, two demographers working on separate continents, each find a connection between “gender-friendly policies” and higher

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