Japan Considers Making Childbirth 100% Free

Japan Considers Making Childbirth 100% Free

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Free childbirth proposal in Japan
Picture: Canva
As Japan continues to face rapid population decline and aging, its government considers a new tactic to grow families: make childbirth free.

The government of Japan wants more people to have kids to stave off the country’s rapidly aging and declining population. Now comes word that the government of Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is considering a new financial incentive: eliminate the cost of giving birth.

Precipitous decline

Baby sleeping
Picture: hirost / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Countries worldwide are seeing birth rates fall. In countries like Japan and South Korea, the drop is marked and has been raising alarm bells for years.

This year, the Japan Research Institute announced that there were 726,000 births in Japan in 2023. That’s a decline of 5.8% from the previous year.

As a result of the lack of live births, Japan’s population isn’t only getting smaller – it’s getting older and more lonely. Fewer people are marrying and having children, leading to an increase in the number of people living alone. Current trends indicate that, by 2050, nearly half (45%) of the country’s residences will be single-person households. 30% of those will be elderly residents.

Japan’s central government and local governments are scrambling to pass initiatives to encourage more people to have kids. They range from the thoughtful and socially beneficial – such as sponsoring free lunches – to the ridiculous – such as when the government floated spending taxpayer money on AI-driven matchmaking apps.

A childbirth stipend?

Continuing to seek an economic response to the issue, Japan’s government is now reportedly considering a proposal to eliminate all childbirth fees.

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Under Japan’s compulsory national health insurance system, patients generally share between 30 and 40% of the economic burden for medical expenses, such as treatment after an accident. Childbirth, however, isn’t covered unless it’s a cesarean section. Since the care required is usually expensive, parents are left shouldering an average of 500,000 yen (USD $3,200) out of pocket. However, in some areas of the country and complicated childbirth cases, that cost can increase by an additional 200,000 yen.

Under the proposed new initiative, the government of Prime Minister Kishida Fumio would issue a one-time payment to all new parents of 500,000 yen. It’s also considering additional payments in cases where the cost exceeds the national average.

Some are skeptical of the new plan

A news story about the proposal drew a heated response on Yahoo! News, where Kyodo’s reporting on the leaked plan has to date drawn over 4,000 comments.

Doctor and author Shigemi Daisuke, as well as OB-GYN Inaba Kanako, both said the plan is a welcome part of the government’s overall strategy to reduce the expense of child-rearing. However, both pointed out that a major issue with the plan is the lack of uniformity in how hospitals charge for pregnancy and birth. A concrete proposal will need to make clear what hospitals can charge for basic services as well as which services (e.g., massages for the birthing mother) may still be up to the individual to pay.

Others echoed this concern, noting that the services offered and the level of care from hospital to hospital can differ greatly. Some commenters argue that it isn’t fair to expect taxpayers to pay for unnecessary “luxury” services.

One top-rated comment argued that, while the plan is a good idea, “child-rearing lasts for 20 years.” The commenter argued that Japan should restore tax deductions for children to lessen the overall financial burden on families.

Is it merely a money issue?

Mom and dad holding baby
Picture: metamorworks / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The discussion around the new proposal assumes that the main reason people aren’t having kids is the financial burden. But is that really the case?

As noted earlier, the number of people entering relationships is itself declining in Japan. The singles lifestyle has become more popular in recent years, with more restaurants, karaoke spots, and other businesses catering to people going out on their own. Other surveys show people in Japan having less sex overall.

Beyond that, some surveys show that there are reasons besides money that people don’t have to have children. A 2023 survey by BIGLOBE of 457 men and women in Generation Z (ages 18 to 25) showed that around 45% of respondents don’t want kids. When asked why, only 17.2% said it was just about the money. A full 42.1% cited “other reasons,” while 40.2% said it was a combination of money and other factors.

BIGLOBE survey on whether people in Generation Z want kids
Picture: BIGLOBE

So, what are the other reasons people in Japan don’t want kids? A full 52.3% said it’s because they don’t have “confidence” that they can raise a kid. A full 45.9% said flatly that they don’t like children. The third most popular reason, at 36%, was that having a child would limit their freedom.

BIGLOBE survey asked Generation Z why they don't want kids
Picture: BIGLOBE

The fourth reason may be the most bleak: 25% of people surveyed say they don’t want kids because they “have no hope for Japan’s future” and don’t want to make a child miserable.

Making childbirth free will likely convince some of the 17.7% of couples who hadn’t considered having children for economic reasons to take the plunge. However, it’s not likely to move the other 82.3%.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that childcare was a covered expense under Japan’s national health insurance plan.

Sources

出産費用、自己負担なしを検討 政府、正常分娩に保険適用案. Kyodo

「家を借りられない」「老人ホームにも入れない」身寄りのない“孤独な高齢者”が増加する日本を待ち受ける残酷な未来とは. SPA!

去年の「出生数」全国72万6000人で過去最少か 日本総研. NHK News

「将来、子どもがほしくない」Z世代の約5割 BIGLOBEが「子育てに関するZ世代の意識調査」を実施. BIGLOBE

医療保険が適用されるの?Taiyo Seimei

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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