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Integrating fertility knowledge to address Japan’s birth rate crisis

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Our researchers improved fertility knowledge in Japan to help increase its declining birth rate.

Birth rates have been declining across the world, causing concern for future generations and economic impacts. Japan has experienced a pronounced birth rate decline over the last 50 years.

Researchers from the Fertility Studies research group at the School of Psychology provided crucial insight into fertility knowledge that is helping Japan to increase birth rates and accelerate timing of births.

The research team found that a lack of fertility knowledge is negatively affecting fertility health within populations. Their research led to drastic policy change, with Japanese Government providing educational interventions to improve fertility outcomes.

Key research outcomes

  • Increased public awareness of fertility
  • Embedded fertility education in Japanese fertility policies
  • Higher birth rate 12-months after the study due to parents deciding to have a child sooner

Key research findings in Japan

Fertility education accelerates the timing of births in partnered people; the research showed that people in Japan had very poor fertility knowledge compared to other developed nations.

This is especially important in Japan, as people tend to marry and start trying to have a baby later in life, and if they encounter problems wait a long time for fertility care. The findings from our research led the Japanese Government to implement fertility education initiatives in schools and community settings.

The research recommended that educational interventions should target schools and the community to be the most effective. It also examined how fertility knowledge affected reproductive decisions, including decisions to delay a first child until after 35 years of age. The study highlighted that fertility education in early adulthood was related to starting a family at an earlier age.

To extend their research, in collaboration with Japanese researchers, the team examined the effect of improved fertility education on the fertility knowledge of 1,455 Japanese men and women of childbearing age who intended to have children. The researchers found that knowledge about fertility increased following fertility education.

Japan population

“In 2009, we surveyed over 10,000 people of childbearing age in 18 countries, which explored levels of fertility knowledge. It revealed that fertility knowledge was substantially lower in Japan than in any other developed country. This finding was particularly worrying alongside Japan’s known low birth rates. Our research resulted in the Japanese Government advisory board for low fertility implementing initiatives to boost the population’s fertility knowledge.”

Professor Jacky Boivin - Research lead

Research impact

Increasing public awareness about fertility

The research gained media attention across Japanese national news outlets as well as being presented to the Government’s Advisory Board for Low Fertility in 2013.

Embedding fertility education in Japanese fertility policies

Following the research findings and subsequent media coverage, the Japanese Government included fertility education as part of its 2015 policy to tackle the nation’s fertility crisis. The aim was to score an average 70% fertility knowledge within the population by 2020 as the target. The policy initiated a series of countermeasures to address the knowledge deficit, including a new education programme.

Implementation of fertility education policy in Japan

The 2015 policy enacted interventions across Japan, with nationwide as well as local strategies implemented. At a national level, the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology produced a pamphlet on fertility. This approach to educating young people is made explicit in the Specific Contents of the Government’s 2015 fertility education policy. At a local level, the Government’s education programme included various creative measures aimed at both school and community audiences.

Having children sooner following fertility education

At 12 months there were more births in the educated group but by 24 months all groups had the same number of births. This finding means the people in all groups had the same number of births but the educated group had them earlier in their 30s. This was deemed a positive outcome given age-related fertility decline and pregnancy complications. It also meant that that timing of births was accelerated without increasing number of births which is important in global over population .

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Meet the team

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