Thursday, August 28, 2008

Paying for it dearly

Blaine Harden of the Washington Post skates right up to the edge of danger with this article on the decline in the birthrate.

The main body of the article is far more serious and interesting than the title and lead paragraph. Indeed, there is a jarring discontinuity between the salacious "I have never met a Japanese man who did not want me to be his mommy" quote and the remainder of the article, where the author does grapple with the relationship between marriage and childbearing in Japan.

This one claim is fascinating: that the rate at which married women have been having children has remained unchanged for the last 30 years, leading to the conclusion that the factor playing the greatest role in the drop in the birth rate is not a fall in the desirability of having children but the desirability of marriage.

This means that all the benefits the government and companies have been splashing out over the last two decades in order to make it easier for married mothers to keep working (and believe you me, for those who are working, the benefits and new work rules are much appreciated) have nevertheless had no observable effect on increasing the number of children born.

Indeed, in theory, if one wanted to see children crowding the playgrounds, amusement parks, classrooms of this blessed land again, all the government would have to figure out is how to induce folks want to get hitched at the ages at which they married in the past. how would the government go about doing that? By strictly enforcing the anti-prostitution laws? By instituting no-fault divorce (and thus eliminating the grisly current drawn-out process that keeps unhappy people in legal bondage to each other until both are well out of peak childbearing years)? By teaching young men how to be objects of desire? By a huge, utterly unfair tax deduction for those married and under the age of 25?

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