Japanese grandparents taking leave to care of grandchildren | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Fumiko Takano holds a grandchild, born in September, while talking with her two other grandchildren in Fukushima. Photo by The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fumiko Takano holds a grandchild, born in September, while talking with her two other grandchildren in Fukushima. Photo by The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fumiko Takano holds a grandchild, born in September, while talking with her two other grandchildren in Fukushima. Photo by The Yomiuri Shimbun

JAPAN — Some Japanese companies have introduced special leave systems for employees so they can take care of their grandchildren.


Two-income households are on the rise while the capacities of nurseries and other child care support facilities remain inadequate, prompting many to rely on their parents to look after their children. The trend suggests that consideration for grandparents’ work-life balance is necessary.


Fumiko Takano, 59, in charge of personal lending at Toho Bank in Fukushima, took 11 days off by using the bank’s “ikumago kyuka” — a leave system that lets grandparents take time off to look after grandchildren.


Takano decided to take some time off because her daughter’s physical condition deteriorated after giving birth to a third child. Her daughter’s husband was also busy, so Takano looked after her two older grandchildren, who attend primary school.


“Spending lots of time with my grandchildren was enriching,” said Takano, who lives with her daughter. “Thanks to this system, it was easier for me to talk to my boss and take leave.”


The bank introduced the system in April, allowing employees to accumulate up to 120 days of unused paid leave. The days can be used for matters involving grandchildren — like taking care of them when they are sick, or attending their functions. Six women have used the system so far; five of them used the time off because their daughters were giving birth to the second or subsequent child. The longest leave taken was a month.


“Couples should find it easier to have children if there’s help from grandparents,” said a person in the bank’s personnel affairs department.


Tokyo-based Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. also introduced a special leave system in 2006 for when grandchildren are born, which was used by around 870 employees last year. One reason why companies have been prompted to introduce grandchild-leave systems is so they don’t lose long-time employees.


Mariko Aso, a researcher in family matters, explained that these grandchild-leave policies have sprung up because day care facilities are insufficient.


“There are few facilities and services to turn to when the unexpected occurs right after birth or in times of sudden illness,” Aso said. “As a result, couples are forced to rely on grandparents.”


Another contributing factor is more and more women working until retirement age thanks to the re-employment system — many women want to continue working even after retirement.


A labor force survey in 2014 by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry showed that the percentage of women working was 66 percent for the 55-59 age bracket and 48 percent for the 60-64 age bracket, an increase of 17 and 10 percentage points, respectively, compared to figures 30 years ago.


Plus, baby boomers and subsequent generations are more interested in being connected to their grandchildren than previous generations. In a survey by Hakuhodo Inc.’s Institute of Elder Knowledge and New Adult Culture, grandparents in their 60s cited the most common reason for being involved in raising grandchildren as “It’s fun to be with them,” exceeding those that chose “I want to help out my child’s family.”


There’s a lot riding on the involvement of grandparents in the raising of children.


“An increasing number of families are thinking of having an additional child if there is ongoing support,” said Akiko Boda, executive director of nonprofit organization Grandparenting Japan.


The basic survey on birth trends conducted in 2010 by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research indicated that the birthrate was 1.84 children per couple for those living far from grandparents, 1.99 for couples living close to grandparents and 2.09 for couples living with grandparents.


The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry therefore added the creation of leave at the time of the birth of grandchildren to the guidelines last autumn for balance-support action plans that businesses are to formulate. This fiscal year, prefectures such as Fukui and Okayama started supporting businesses to encourage the taking of grandchild leave.


“The introduction of grandchild leave systems by businesses is an effective way for society as a whole to support the raising of children,” said Prof. Akira Wakisaka of Gakushuin University, who specializes in labor economics.


The work-life balance of grandparents is taking on increasing importance. This spring, a woman in her early 60s living in the Kanto region had to quit her job as a day care worker to help out her daughters and grandchildren when two of her daughters gave birth during the same period.


“There are a striking number of cases in which a grandparent has to quit work to take care of grandchildren because the daughter’s husband gets transferred or she is divorced,” Aso said. “In such cases, there’s considerable burden on the grandparents in raising the grandchildren, and they should first discuss the kinds of help the grandparents will be offering so that they don’t get overburdened.”


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