Japan Latest Nation to Incentivize Childbirth

Last year, the US government offered its citizens between $3,500-$4,500 to trade-in their old car in favor of purchasing a new, fuel-efficient vehicle.  According to the official government “cash for clunkers” site, nearly 680,000 people participated in the program.  Japan, the latest nation to offer parents a stipend for having children, is hoping for a similar surge – not in auto sales, but in population growth.  Families are to be paid $1,800 annually per child, but with childcare so difficult to access in cities like Tokyo, will that money be enough to encourage procreation?  Japanese officials say 46,000 children “are on waiting lists to get into day care.”

According to CNN/WCVB Boston, “Japan has the world’s fastest aging population, and one of the lowest birth rates. By 2050, experts estimate 40 percent of the country’s population will be over age 65.”  A new crop of workers paying into the pension system is needed to cover the cost of taking care of the elderly members of society.  And affordable, government-run facilities for the aging are as difficult to get into as daycare centers, according to Catherine Makino of IPS News.

Japan is not the first country to offer money in the hopes of bolstering its population.  European nations have been trying for years to encourage their citizens to have more babies.  France’s generous incentives are reported to include stipends for nannies, monthly babysitting allowances and paid parental leave for three years, while the German government “allows an adult who stops work after a child is born to continue to claim two-thirds of their net wage, up to a maximum $2,375 per month. Low earners can claim 100 percent compensation for lost wages,” according to this 2007 report by the Associated Press.  Even China, famous for its one-child policy, has considered ending its restrictions on childbirth due to concerns over facing an increasingly elderly population.

Though monetizing reproduction has gained popularity around the world, don’t look for similar programs to take hold in the US.  The CDC disclosed that while American birth rates fell by 2% from 2007 to 2008, the overall fertility rate is 2.1 children per adult female, enough to keep the population status quo.  As US parents know, even paid maternity leave can be hard to come by.  The first few months after my daughter was born, I was on unemployment, or as I took to calling it, “maternity leave for temps.”  So if you’re hoping Obama will send you some cash in 2010, it looks like you’ll have to install solar panels on the nursery.

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