Why are developmental citizens reluctant to procreate? Analytical insights from Shirley Sun’sPopulation Policy and Reproduction in Singaporeand Takeda Hiroko’sThe Political Economy of Reproduction in Japan
SONG Yoo-Jean, CHANG Kyung-Sup, and Gabriel Sylvian
In recent years, low—in fact, “lowest-low”—birth rate has continued to be a feature of East Asian societies. Kohler and his colleagues (2002) have designated total fertility rate (TFR) below 1.3 as “lowest-low fertility.” In 2012, TFR in East Asian societies including Singapore, Japan, etc., ranked lowest among 224 countries in the world. The country with the lowest total fertility rate in the world is Singapore (0.78); followed by Hong Kong (1.09 at #222), Taiwan (1.10 at #221), South Korea (1.23 at #219), and Japan (1.39 at #206) (CIA 2012). Birth rates for these societies began dropping below the so-called replacement level (i.e., total fertility rate of 2.1) in the 1970s. Transition in birth rate to a total fertility rate of 2.1 (replacement level) is classified as “First Demographic Transition,” and reduction to figures below 2.1 as “Second Demographic Transition.” East Asian societies all havebeen undergoing rapid fertility decline and, since the turn of the century, have recorded lowest-low fertility rates.
Unlike Western societies where fertility rates have changed gradually over a long period of time, drastic changes in fertility have occurred in East Asia within a very short span of time. The important role of birth control policies actively implemented by developmentalist governments is also a distinctive characteristic of East Asia. A number of Western countries experiencing lowest-low birth rates for a time have recently shown a tendency to recover higher birth levels (Goldstein, Sobotka, and Jasilioniene 2009). East Asian societies meanwhile have continued to experience lowest-low fertility despite aggressive government interventions to reverse the trend.
So what caused this fertility decline in East Asian societies, so rapidly and so quickly? Why has low fertility level persisted despite active governmental involvement to encourage births? This issue needs to be examined along with the fertility impacts of individualism and gender equality that have been held responsible for the Second Demographic Transition (Van de Kaa 1987; McDonald 2000).Two recent path-breaking books on Singapore and Japan—i.e., Shirley Hsiao-Li Sun’s Population Policy and Reproduction in Singapore: Making Future Citizen(2012) and Takeda Hiroko’s The Political Economy of Reproduction in Japan: Between Nation-State and Everyday Life(2005) —offer us a unique opportunity to look into these issues in the Singaporean and Japanese contexts.
Song Yoo-Jean is an assistant professor in Department of Sociology at Dong-A University. She received a PhD in sociology from Brown University. Her main fields of study are demography and family sociology.
Chang Kyung-Sup is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University, specialized in institutional sociology, social policy, and comparative political economy. His recent studies deal with compressed modernity, developmental liberalism, developmental citizenship, etc.
Gabriel Sylvian researches Korean same-sex history and literature at Seoul National University.