Problem Solving Practice Edition: Root cause analysis ~ Why can’t we expect “Another dimension of countermeasures against the declining birthrate”?

Hello everyone. Last time, I wrote about “Logistic regression analysis”.  This time I would like to cover Root cause analysis as Practice Edition. The subject is the current hot topic in Japan (as of August 2023), “Another dimension of countermeasures against the declining birthrate”.

Prime Minister Kishida announced that he will plan to address the declining birthrate in a different dimension at the beginning of 2023, but according to the Asahi Shimbun’s April poll (sorry, only in Japanese), the negative option of “this can’t be expected” occupied 61% against the positive option of “this can be expected” for 33%.  Other medias have published similar findings, so this is probably the reaction of most people.

1. Overview of “Another dimension of countermeasures against the declining birthrate”

First of all, let’s review what the “Another dimension of countermeasures against the declining birthrate” is. According to this post (sorry, only in Japanese), at the beginning of the year, it was said that there would be three pillars: 1) strengthening economic support such as child allowances, 2) expanding support for after-school care, sick child care, and postnatal care, and 3) promoting work style reform. As far as these three pillars are concerned, it is thought that the perception that these are “childcare support” and that they are different from “countermeasures against the declining birthrate” led to the negative reaction of the public opinion polls.

After that, in June 2023, the “Children’s Future Strategy Policy (sorry, only in Japanese)” was decided as a specific measure. Let’s see what’s inside. Looking at the table of contents, 1) the basic concept of child and child-rearing policy, 2) strengthening child and child-rearing policy: three basic principles, 3) “acceleration plan” – intensive efforts for the next three years -, 4) The future vision of child and parenting policies and the promotion of the PDCA cycle. As far as the table of contents is concerned, after all, the color of “childcare support” seems to be strong. “1) Basic concept of child and child-rearing policy” in this is like an executive summary, so let’s take a closer look at the content.

Basic concept of child and child-rearing policy- First, review the current situation

– The number of children born in 2022 will be 770,747, the lowest number since 1899 when statistics began. The total fertility rate in 2022 is 1.26, the lowest ever.

– The number of births fell below 1 million for the first time in 2016, but fell below 900,000 in 2019 and 800,000 in 2022. If this trend continues, it is expected to fall below 500,000 by 2060.

– The period until the 2030s, when the young population declines sharply, is an important turning point as to whether or not this situation can be reversed. If we can’t reverse the situation, such population decline will be unstoppable, and it will become difficult to achieve sustainable economic growth. 2030 is our last chance.

It seems that the current situation has been thoroughly analyzed to some extent, including the figures. However, what worries me as a problem solver is the goal setting of “reversing the declining birthrate trend by 2030”. It’s good that the timeline is set to “2030,” but I don’t really  understand what the phrase “reversing the declining birthrate trend” specifically refers to. We’ll touch on this point later, but let’s read on.

Basic concept of child and child-rearing policy – Direction of the measures

– What is particularly emphasized in the countermeasures against the declining birthrate is that it clearly states that the declining birthrate cannot be reversed unless the income of young people and those raising children is increased.

 – This year’s wage increase has already reached the highest level in the past 30 years, and domestic investment in the fields of semiconductors, storage batteries, renewable energy, tourism, etc. has been activated. First, by accelerating these efforts, we will take the lead in achieving stable economic growth. In order to ensure that the fruits of economic growth are distributed to young people and those raising children, we will achieve sustainable and structural wage increases that overcome high prices through raising the minimum wage and implementing a trinity of labor market reforms.

– Countermeasures for the declining birthrate on another dimension include (1) enhancing economic support in conjunction with structural wage increases to increase the income of the younger generation, (2) changing the structure and awareness of society as a whole, ( 3) To support all children and child-raising households in a seamless manner according to their life stages.

What worries me as a problem solver is that they suddenly goes from reviewing the current situation to taking countermeasures. The theory of problem solving was root cause analysis, right?  I would like to touch on this point later.

So far, I have pointed out two problems: (1) Goal setting and (2) Root cause analysis. There is also a discussion about financial resources, but it seems to be out of the main topic of this post, so let me omit it. Now let’s take a look at each of the two issues below.

2. Problems of the another dimension of countermeasures against the declining birthrate – (1) Goal setting

Earlier, I pointed out the problem of what it means to “reverse the trend of declining birthrate”, but based on the current situation, “the number of children born in 2022 was 770,747. In addition, the total fertility rate in 2022 was the lowest ever, at 1.26”, both “the number of children born” and “the total fertility rate” can be considered a KPI.

The Dai-ichi Life Research Institute has done an interesting simulation here.

Fig1: Number of birth increase simulation (only in Japanese, sorry)

According to this, the number of births in 2030 was estimated in three ways: “(1) if the trend of declining birth rate continues for the past three years, (2) if the trend of the past 10 years continues, (3) if the birth rate by age group go back to the level of 10 years ago (2012).  And the result was: (1) 550,000, (2) 660,000, and (3) 850,000, respectively.”

In this way, if you do not set specific KPIs and target values for each KPI, such as “recover the birth rate to the level of 2012 and aim for 850,000 births in 2030,” measures will not be succeeded. Goal setting is important when solving problems because you will not be able to measure whether you have done it. If we keep this point ambiguous, for example, “reversing the declining birthrate trend” may be misinterpreted as “realizing the third baby boom (2 million births)”, etc. In that case, the discussion will be completely different. If that happens, the problem of “small number of mothers (sorry, only in Japanese)” will come out, and since it is impossible to address in the current situation, it is thought that pessimism such as “Japan is over” will be encouraged.

By the way, the total fertility rate in 2012 was 1.41. This “1.41” does not seem to be high enough to maintain the population (“2.07” is necessary ⇒ it is called the population replacement level). None of the developed countries has achieved this population replacement level, with France and Northern Europe having relatively high rates but not reaching 2.07.

For Japan, which is currently (as of 2023) “1.26”, I think it can be said that aiming for “1.41” is a realistic goal. Note: Although the government seems to have set a target of 1.8 (sorry, only in Japanese), this aspect is not touched on at all in this another dimension of countermeasure against the declining birthrate. .

So far, I have written on the premise that “fertility rate = total fertility rate” as a matter of course. While the total fertility rate includes unmarried women, the total marital fertility rate is “the average number of children that married women are expected to have in their lifetime.” Here’s an interesting graph.

Fig2: Trends in Total Fertility Rate and Total Marriage Fertility Rate (only in Japanese, sorry)

Looking at this, it seems that the total marriage birth rate has not declined so much, and is generally maintained at a level of 1.7 to 1.9. In other words, the number of people who give birth to children has not decreased that much once they get married. In other words, it can be said that the decline in the birth rate is not due to the problem of raising children after giving birth, but to the fact that there are many unmarried people in the previous stage. . This will also be relevant to the root cause analysis that follows.

2. Problems of the another dimension of countermeasures against the declining birthrate – (2) Root cause analysis for the declining birthrate

Earlier, I pointed out that what worries me as a problem solver is that “they suddenly go from reviewing the current situation to taking countermeasures”. The theory of problem solving was root cause analysis. So let’s do a “root cause analysis of the declining birthrate” again as a practice edition.

I previously mentioned “Fishbone Analysis (Logic Tree)” and “5 Whys” as techniques that can be used for root cause analysis. First, the “Fishbone Analysis” was used to analyze a wide range of problems, and the “5 Whys” was used to deep dive into a specific problem. In this case, it seems that we need to take a broader look first, so I am going to use “fishbone analysis.” I just wrote it in the post, but I personally prefer the logic tree, so lol, I’ll go with the logic tree format.

Root cause analysis for the declining birthrate (1) – Fishbone analysis (Logic tree)

The goal is to “recover the birth rate to the level of 2012 (total fertility rate of 1.41) and aim for 850,000 births in 2030”. In other words, the problem is why the current situation is different. Place this on the left starting point on the tree.

I’ll break down to find the root cause of this, but at times like this, a framework is needed to think in MECE. What to use? This is where problem solvers can show their skills, but in the case of this kind of theme related to “human life”, the “life stage” is an easy-to-use. Now let’s look at the tree.

Fig3: Logic tree to find the root cause for the declining birthrate
Fig3: Logic tree to find the root cause for the declining birthrate

(*1) Source (only in Japanese, sorry):

(*2) Source (only in Japanese, sorry):,

(*3) Source (only in Japanese, sorry):

(*4) Source (only in Japanese, sorry):,%E3%81%93%E3%81%A8%E3%81%AB%E3%81%AA%E3%82%8B%E3%81%AE%E3%81%A7%E3%81%99%E3%80%82

(*5) Source (only in Japanese, sorry):

Looking at the order of life stages, the first is “advancement”, but the university enrollment rate is at a record high level. Next, “employment” also maintains a high employment rate for both university and high school graduates. I don’t think the root cause is the trend of “I can’t get married because I can’t go on to college or get a job” (I think there are some people like that individually, but here I would like to look at the big picture).

Regarding “marriage”, as you all know, the unmarried rate continues to rise. Compared to the 1980s, it’s obvious. Next, regarding childbirth, as we have already seen, the total fertility rate has hit a record low (the problem is that the data is a little old). Therefore, it seems reasonable to think that as long as people get married, they will have children (Of course, some people will choose not to have children,  and there is also infertility issues.  But they are off topic here, so let me put it aside here).

Finally, regarding “child-rearing,” looking at “life satisfaction in general,” the satisfaction level of child-rearing households is higher than that of non-married people. From this, it doesn’t seem to be the case that “raising children is hard, so they don’t get married”.

From the above, it seems that the “high unmarried rate” is the root cause of the declining birthrate. Here, I would like to use “5 whys” in order to deep dive into the “high unmarried rate”.

Root cause analysis for the declining birthrate (2) – 5 whys

Before going into the analysis, I would like to share some basic information.

First of all, I would like you to take a look at this chart. According to a survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, nearly 90% of non-married people have maintained their intention to marry from the past to the present. So we can say that their intention to marry have never been went down.

Fig4: Percentage of non-married people who answered that they intend to get married someday (only in Japanese, sorry)

So why don’t young people get married? Let’s look at the main reasons.

Fig5: Main reasons why young people don’t get married (only in Japanese, sorry)

It’s a bit of a messy graph, but you can see that for a long time, “not finding the right partner” has always been by far the number one answer. We also often hear reasons such as financial problems, “I don’t want to lose my freedom and comfort”, or “I don’t feel the need yet”, but it seems that the biggest problem is the lack of encounters.

Here is some interesting data.

Fig6: Estimated changes in the number of first marriages by couples’ trigger of their first acquaintance (only in Japanese, sorry)

This is also a messy graph, but let’s try to look in detail. Compared to about 40 years ago (1982), the biggest drop is in “Miai (traditional arranged marriage)”. Traditional arranged marriages have been declining for about 20 to 30 years, and this is a convincing result. Instead of traditional arranged marriages, “Workplace marriages” was the major trigger, but they have also dropped significantly since about 25 years ago (1997). Instead, Internet marriage is growing recently. Although the number is still small, it can be said that they are the stars of hope in the present age where the two major marriage systems of “traditional arranged marriage” and “workplace marriage” have been lost.

Now let’s take a look at the “5 whys”.

Fig6: 5 whys to deep dive into the “high unmarried rate”
Fig6: 5 whys to deep dive into the “high unmarried rate”

It’s “3 whys”, but as I wrote before, if you can think of a solution that can be improved, you don’t need to stick to 5 times. I think we can find some solutions around this, right?

By the way, if we compare this root cause with the “basic philosophy of a different dimension of declining birthrate”, don’t you feel a mismatch? It seems that this area leads to low expectations for this measure.

3. To solve the root cause

So far, we have come to understand the need for a “reliable marriage arrangement system that replaces ‘traditional arranged marriage’ and ‘workplace marriage’ ”. What can be done about this? For reference, if we take a look at the materials of the Cabinet Office (only in Japanese, sorry), there are various considerations. It is strange why these are not taken up in a different dimension of countermeasures against the declining birthrate.

However, if such a service were to be provided publicly, it would be likely that it would be unsatisfactory. So providing services by private companies would be better, and the government can support for matchmaking expenses (counseling office costs, matchmaking apps, etc.). However, if it becomes a permanent support, it encourages procrastination (momentum is important in marriage!), so it may be more effective if it is limited to one year or so. Also, considering that the goal is to lead to childbirth, it may be necessary to set an age limit (20s to 30s, at most early 40s. So-called senior marriages are not eligible, etc.).

Also, in the sense of a “safe system”, the current Internet marriage may not be enough. It may be possible for the government to give some kind of endorsement to these service providers.

I have written a lot about this, but I think (and I want to believe) that it has become what it is today due to various discussions at the policy-making level and various constraints. If you don’t do something about how to show it a little more, you won’t be able to get the understanding of the people.

This time, as a practice edition of root cause analysis, I tried using fishbone analysis (logic tree) and 5 whys on real subjects. I hope you can understand that these can be used in various cases like this.

That’s all for this time, and I would like to continue from the next time onwards. Thank you for reading until the end.

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