Women on These Beautiful Islands Have Japan's Best Recipe for Fertility and Longevity

Cutting overtime at work is a key ingredient

Tourism And Economy On Ishigaki Resort Island

The sunrise in Ishigaki, Okinawa prefecture, Japan.

Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

Women in Okinawa have more babies and live longer than women from almost anywhere else in Japan.

If data from the statistics bureau and labor ministry are any guide, it has as much to do with work-life balance as the prefecture's sun-drenched beaches and crystal-clear waters.

As the graph below shows, women in Okinawa give birth to an average 1.94 children over their lifetime, the highest rate in Japan. Tokyo comes in last, with women in the capital on average having 1.13 babies.

Life expectancy for women on the subtropical island chain is 87, only fractionally below top-rank Nagano.

There's a lesson in here for the rest of the nation, as it fights to stem a shrinking population and boost female participation in the workforce.

Okinawans, women and men, work fewer overtime hours than people almost anywhere else in Japan, while their counterparts in Tokyo work about four hours more each month. That means more time for couples to raise a family, and increases the likelihood that men may share more of the burden of looking after children.

That's not to say people in Okinawa are taking it easy while Tokyoites slave away in government offices and corporate headquarters. The labor force participation rate for women in Okinawa is above the national average, and just a smidgen below that in the capital. 

As the birth rate falls across Japan as a whole, Kanako Amano, a demographics specialist at the NLI Research Institute in Tokyo, points to people marrying later.

Okinawan women tend to get hitched at an earlier age, and on average give birth to their first child at 29.1, compared with 32 in Tokyo.

Most Japanese couples want to have two or three children, but financial resources hold back women under 30 and health issues have an impact on many from 35, according to a government study.

Amano, 43, who has one child and gave birth in her mid thirties, said that if the government wants to help couples start a family, it has to help them do it a younger age, and to address overwork in Japan. 

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