A report released by the national statistics office Tuesday showed that the number of childbirths in Korea fell for the sixth consecutive month in June, deepening concerns over the country’s chronically low birthrate. The number of babies born in June stood at about 33,000, down 12.6 percent from the same month a year earlier.
The government has been trying to push up Korea’s fertility rate, which remains the second lowest among the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The effort appeared to have paid off as the number of babies born here rose for the third straight year in 2012, with the fertility rate, which means the number of babies that a woman is expected to have during her lifetime, also growing to 1.297 from the previous year’s 1.244.
But this year’s downward trend highlights the need for more drastic and effective measures to encourage people to have more children. The decline is attributable partly to the tendency to delay marriage and childbirth, with separate data released by Statistics Korea earlier this week showing that the average age of women to have their first baby stood at 30.5 last year, up 0.25 from a year earlier.
The chronically low birthrate, coupled with the rapidly aging population, is feared to weaken the country’s growth potential by reducing the workforce and increasing welfare costs. Strenuous efforts should be made continuously to prevent or lessen the negative impact of the possible shrinkage of the population. Top policy priority should be given to boosting the birthrate through various support programs. The urgent need to secure the demographic balance should not be pushed back by the preoccupation with measures to settle pending economic and welfare tasks.
What may also have to be noted in the Statistics Korea data is the low proportion of extramarital births, which stood at a mere 2.1 percent last year, compared to the OECD average of 36.3 percent. It is unrealistic to presume this figure simply reflects Korean society’s moral standards. What is needed in reality may be measures to make it easier to raise children out of wedlock and thus reduce illegal abortions.
Efforts should also be redoubled to lower Korea’s suicide rate, which has remained the highest among OECD members for the past decade. A recent survey of 1,320 students in Seoul showed a quarter of them had more than once felt an impulse to commit suicide due mainly to worries over academic performance and loneliness. There is no use in trying to push up the birthrate only to see many teenagers end their own lives.