It is no news that Korea is a fast-aging society and has one of the world’s lowest birthrates. The government has spent 53 trillion won over the past eight years to raise the birthrate. It has brought about little results, however, as seen in recent international statistics.
The World Factbook published by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said Korea’s total fertility rate, the average number of babies born to a woman over her lifetime, is estimated to be 1.25 this year, 219th out of 224 countries. Those with a lower rate than Korea include Singapore, Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Korea also ranked low in terms of crude birth rate, the number of births per 1,000 people, with 8.26, which is 220th out of the 224 countries surveyed in the fact book. This is also the lowest among the 34 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Experts note that the bigger problem is that Korea has been stuck with these low birthrates for an extended period of time, much longer than any other advanced economy. Korea’s fertility rate went down to 1.45 in 1997 and broke the 1.3 mark in 2001. It has since remained below the 1.3 level, even plunging to 1.19 last year.
This reality underscores that Korea’s conditions for marriage and bearing and rearing children have not seen any significant improvement despite the government’s much touted policy programs and social and business initiatives.
One can take example from a recent Ministry of Employment and Labor report, which showed that no one has taken maternity leave during the past five years at 175 of the 1,519 firms that employ 500 people or more.
This shows that the law guaranteeing maternity leave is one thing and the reality is another. One can imagine what the situation would be like in smaller companies. Clearly, the numerous incentives and policy programs aimed at raising birthrates are not implemented at each and every workplace.
Korea is not the only country that has been suffering from a low birthrate. France has lifted its fertility rate to 2.1, the highest in Europe, on the back of successful family welfare and child-rearing programs and Japan is working on an ambitious plan to raise its rate to 2.07 by 2030. This reminds us to work harder to tackle the issue.