Time is a fascinating concept. Today we learn that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘time’ is top noun in use terms in the English language. Interesting statistic that, especially as time is such an integral component in our decision making process.
Also in today’s news we learn from Dr. Kunio Kitamura of the Japan Family Planning Association that “”Japanese people simply aren’t having sex”.
Now why should these two little details be interesting, and what connection could there be between them?
Well, you guessed it, all this has got something to do with fertility, and one of the reasons why collectively we may be having less children. According to the Japan Times:
“An association survey of 936 people between the ages of 16 and 49 showed 31 percent had not had sex for more than a month “for no particular reason” — a condition known as ‘sexless.’ ”
And as Dr Kitamura tells us “As much as subsidies and welfare programmes are important, sexlessness is also a critical issue in this problem.”
Now I suppose to many of you this connection seems far fetched and ridiculous, but is it? Let’s think about all this a moment.
Only last week the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare proposed that workers who put in more than 40 hours of overtime a month will earn the right to an extra day off the next month. The reasoning behind this is that doing so much work is thought to leave Japanâ€™s 30-something male with little time to think of other things â€“ such as starting a family – remember that Japanâ€™s birthrate, at only 1.25 per woman is still falling, is and is among the worldâ€™s lowest.
But why would having more time help. Well I have tried to address this problem briefly here. Basically their is an analytic framework called Life History Theory which comes to us from evolutionary biology and evolutionary anthropology, and life history theory is all about trade-offs, namely trade-offs between maintenance, growth and mating activity. Now clearly all this relates to our evolutionary past, but I cannot help feeling that the trade-off framework they have developed is also relevant to examine the way we take some strategic decisions, especially those related to time and energy allocations. Basically we could conceptualise what we do as allocating these resources precisely between maintenance-type, growth-type and mating-type activities. So on this account, Japanes males may be being thought of as giving too much to maintenance and growth (consumption, wealth accumulation) and too little to mating. Hence the concern of the Japanese government, and hence the low priority apparently allocated to sex.
Now I am not saying that this is any kind of explanation for low fertility, but it is interesting. And there is more.
Last year I posted here about global patterns in menarche age (age at first menstruation). What intrigued me at that point was the growing disconnect between the actual arrival of sexual reproductive capacity and the age of giving birth which has been steadily rising (I have subsequently discovered that these falling menarche ages may in some cases be more problematic than they seem since in their lowest-low age variety they are often associated with some form or other of fetal metabolic syndrome, whereby low birthweights – think mums who smoke, or practice dieting during pregnancy – are later asociated with early menarche, obesity and diabetes).
Now this disconnect may well have fertility consequences, and yes, it is all about sex. Basically the more the couple passes thirty the harder they have to try. And this may mean try and try and try, somthing which may not be so easy after a couple have been together ten years or more as it is between say five to ten years. (Some of the scientific reasoning behind this assertion can be found here).
Now to some extent it appears Japanese couples may be suffering from some of this ‘reproductive fatigue’.
According to a article in the March 2006 of the Japanese Journal of Population:
“Japan’s TFR in 2004 was 1.29 , which is “lowest-low” fertility, i.e. having a TFR of 1.3 or less.It seems to be impossible for cohorts born after 1960 to achieve the complete fertility of their predecessors. The delay in childbearing was accelerated again after 2000. It was shown that both nuptiality and marital fertility contributed to the recent fertility decline. For marital fertility, it was supposed that coital frequency and infecundity were primary factors, though data were not available.”
Well, as they say, data were not available, but obviously Dr.Kitamura is convinced, this is part of the picture. I will close with a quote from the Russian futurist painter Pavel Filonov, who when asked whether he was thinking of going to the front replied “As it is I’m waging a war already, but not for territory – for time. I am in a trench wrestling with the past for a shred of time”. Maybe there is a lesson here for some of these ‘sexless’ couples, go out in search of some of that illspent time, and get on with some wrestling!