21 Sep 2021 Japan Offers Fertility Treatment Benefits to Counter Birth Rate Decline
As global birth rates decline, raising concerns about shrinking labor forces and falling GDPs, Japan’s government is trying to make it easier for workers to become parents by offering paid time off for fertility treatment.
Beginning in January 2022, employees of the Japanese national employees will be entitled to 10 additional days of paid leave annually for fertility treatment such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), as reported by human resources news publication HRM Asia.
Japan joins a number of developed countries who have adjusted public policy to counter falling birth rates. Global fertility rates have fallen 50 percent over the past 50 years, according to a July 2021 article in Popular Science, from five children per woman in 1968 to 2.5 in 2017. The reasons for the drop are numerous, but the root cause is modernization: More women worldwide are educated than at any time in history, and there are more women in the workforce, both indicators of a country’s prosperity. As a secondary result, women are having fewer babies and waiting longer to have them.
Birth Rate Decline Raises Concerns of Shrinking Economies
But population declines raise concerns of labor shortages and shrinking economies. Just as birth rates have dropped, life expectancy—with a break during the COVID pandemic—has gone up, raising the prospect, in some parts of the world, of the old eventually outnumbering the young. In such aging countries, will there be enough workers to support the old in retirement?
In the face of such concerns, China dropped its onerous “one child” policy in 2016, raising the cap first to two children per couple, then to three. In South Korea, where the birth rate fell to 0.92 percent in 2019 (less than one child per woman) and has continued to decline, according to The New York Times, the government pays baby bonuses, has increased child allowances, and subsidizes fertility treatments and pregnancy care.
Japan’s government hopes to slow its shrinking birth rate by making it easier for young workers to access assisted reproduction. In a recent survey of 47,000 Japanese national public employees, 1.8 reported they currently were undergoing fertility treatment, 10.1 percent had experience with fertility treatment, and 3.7 percent said they had considered it, HRM Asia reports. Of those who had experienced fertility treatment or were considering it, 62.5 percent said balancing treatment with work was “very difficult,” while another 11.3 percent said it was “impossible,” citing scheduling time off for treatment as well as cost as barriers.
Japan’s new initiative is part of a growing trend by governments and health care advocates to make creating a family through assisted reproductive technology more affordable and accessible to more people. At least 17 U.S. states now require insurers to offer or provide coverage of fertility treatments such as IVF and fertility preservation, as we have reported, and other countries increasingly are including coverage for fertility services in national health plans. COVID-related lockdowns also appear to have accelerated the trend of freezing eggs and sperm in order to delay reproduction for a more convenient future, as we reported.
Assisted reproductive technology has expanded the ability to become parents to millions of people with infertility as well as LGBTQ people and singles. In the face of a rapidly changing world, ART may one day be a tool that helps to ensure the human population endures.