Japan’s birthrate has been slumping for decades, and while anyone packed into a crowded Tokyo commuter train might momentarily be fine with the concept of fewer people, long-term it presents problems for Japan’s pension, health insurance, and other social welfare and economic systems.
Because of that, both the national and local governments are constantly investigating new initiatives to encourage people to start cranking out more kids, and the latest plan from the city of Sado, Niigata Prefecture, is to give parents two million yen for having a third kid, and also for each additional kid after that.
That’s not to say that a city official shows up in the delivery room with a stack of 200 10,000-yen bills, though, since the grant is meant to help with the costs of both child rearing and education. The parents receive a payment of 200,000 on the occasion of the child’s birth followed by sums of 400,000, 500,000, and 800,000 yen when they turn 6, 12, and 15 years old, roughly aligning with the ages when they start elementary, middle, and high school (as high school is not part of compulsory education in Japan, even public high schools charge tuition). Combined with a separate Sado program started earlier in the year that gives a 100,000-yen grant for any birth in the city, the total payment for each third or later child comes out to two million yen.
But why start the surge at the third child? Because of the results of a survey Sado conducted last year among households in the city who already have children, which asked them how large of a family they’d ideally like. More than half of the respondents said they’d like to have three kids, but many also said that such a large family would be economically difficult for them.
Sado’s strategy of focusing on families that already have children makes a certain kind of sense. As Japanese lifestyles continue to evolve and become more diverse, there’s comparatively less social pressure to have children than there was in previous generations, and thus a larger number of people who simply aren’t interested in having kids of their own. Respecting their freedom to make that choice, and instead concentrating on couples who’ve already decided they want to be parents but are hesitant to expand their brood because of budgetary concerns, sounds like a win-win.
On the other hand, one could argue that waiting until the third child for the major economic support to kick in makes it harder for childless couples to make that first, or even second, step into parenthood, and that spreading the benefits more evenly among births could lower that entry barrier.
Still, for couples who would like big family, two million yen is a lot of money, and Sado hopes that the program not only promotes births among its current households, but also helps convince people from other parts of Japan to move to the city and raise their children there.
Source: NHK News Web
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