Japanese Town With High Birth Rate Charges Visitors to Learn Why
- The birth rate in Japan has been falling for three decades, and hit an all-time low last year.
- But in one small town, parents are electing to have more kids, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- That’s because well-funded social safety net programs are making it affordable to have kids.
In a Japanese town with fewer than 6,000 people, the birth rate is double what it is in the country overall; it’s nearly three, whereas the rest of Japan is only slightly above one.
That’s as the population has fallen in the country over the last three decades. Last year, births in Japan fell to an all-time low, falling below 800,000 for the first time.
“It is now or never when it comes to policies regarding births and child-rearing,” Japanese Prime minister Fumio Kishida said last month in a dire speech. “It is an issue that simply cannot wait any longer.”
That’s why some call what’s happening in the town of Nagi a miracle, The Wall Street Journal’s Mijo Inada reported last week, with people even treating the booming population as a tourist attraction. Nagi’s town hall charges delegations for tours.
But rather than a miracle, it’s likely social safety net programs, including policies engineered toward affordable childcare, that’s helping the population grow.
Parents pay a maximum of $420 a month in daycare expenses for their first child, according to tourism guides, The Journal reported. For a second child, parents pay a maximum of $210, and aren’t charged for any kids they have after that.
Additionally, parents in Nagi receive a stipend of $1,000 annually for each child they have enrolled in high school. On top of that, parents receive one-time payments following the birth of their children, which more than double with the birth of each successive child — i.e. an $879 payment for the first and a $3,518 payment for the third. The town also offers free medical care for all children, and subsidized housing, according to CNN in 2019.
Birth rates have been falling in countries all around the world in recent years. In the US, the birth rate has gradually been decreasing, although it had its first uptick in seven years in 2021. Part of what’s keeping people from having kids is the cost of it, experts told Insider. And young couples who do decide to have kids end up feeling the toll of it.
That’s not the case in Nagi. Town residents told The Journal of an intergenerational culture committed to the “it takes a village” adage.
“In Nagi, mothers are like mothers for everyone,” Nozomi Sakaino, a mother of three kids, said. “We look after each other’s children.”
The ability to afford children is an incentive to have them
It’s a model that Japan wants to follow at the national level. Over the past few years, the country has attempted to encourage households to have children by promising bonuses and benefits. The country has continually tried to implement new policies to tackle the cost of child raising. In 1994, for instance, the government’s “Angel Plan” targeted the stress of parenthood by offering counseling, and a revised “New Angel Plan” years later paid parents about $280 per month per child to help with costs.
But Japan still remains one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, and the new record lows for the population indicate that past measures haven’t been enough. As of 2020, GoBankingRates determined that it was the eighth priciest, outranking the United States, United Kingdom, and South Korea.
The increased migration of people from rural areas to urban ones is also exacerbating things for Japan, with more than 93% of the population living in cities. The cramped spaces coupled with the cost of living there makes it harder for households to accommodate children.
Nagi’s elaborate social safety net for families with kids recalls the way that similar, temporary programs in the US eased the burden of childcare in recent years. For the second half of 2021, for instance, millions of families received monthly child tax credit checks, which alleviated cost of living pressures for working and middle class parents.
Other countries are taking notes from Nagi.
“We’d like to make policies like this,” Kang Mu-seung, a South Korean official visiting Nagi, told The Journal.
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