Jan 30, 2007

How Well Have You Done as a Birth-giving Machine?

Over the weekend, Hakuo Yanagisawa, the Japanese health minister, announced that,
"women of child-bearing age should perform a public service by raising the birthrate, which fell to a record low of 1.26 children per woman in 2005. Experts say an average fertility rate of 2.1 children is needed to keep the population stable."
Wait—it gets better—Yanagisawa used the term "birth-giving machines" to refer to women in general, and urged them to do their duty to raise the birthrate in Japan. He tried to back-pedal a bit when he added in the same speech, seemingly sotto voce, that perhaps his use of the word machines was "too uncivil":

"The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head, although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines."

A bit of backstory is required. In Japan, 20% of the population is 65 years old or older (compared to 12% in the U.S.). With a declining young population, there are fewer Japanese workers to contribute to the pension system to support the increasing elderly population, which further squeezes the economy.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe naturally condemned the remarks, but political analysts there expect little fallout from the minister's incendiary word choice (which would have been career suicide if it happened in the U.S.). Abe said he saw little need for Yanagisawa to resign, despite a group of 27 female lawmakers calling for his kubi (or neck, which is used in Japan to signify getting fired—along with a slashing motion across the neck).

Now, I'd like to know if you have done your duty as a birthing machine to the potential pool of pension fund suppliers by creating new babies? I had one, but waited until I was almost 41 to do so. Does that count? I can honestly say, pension funds never entered my mind.

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