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[Editorial] Demographic crisis

Drastic support needed to elevate fertility rate

According to the National Pension Research Institute, South Korea is projected to see the number of seniors aged 65 or older take up about 45 percent of the population by 2060. This means the proportion of the population who are of working age -- between 15 and 64 -- will decrease sharply over the next few decades.

As the drop in the working-age share of the population is set to start next year, concerns are mounting over the low birthrate. The International Monetary Fund forecast last year that the demographic changes in Korea would pose a critical threat to its economy.

Monthly statistics on childbirths in Korea earlier this week showed the gravity of the situation. The number of childbirths in February this year was 34,900, marking the lowest number for the month since 2000, when the Statistics office first started collecting such data.

The figure was a 2.2 percent drop from the previous year.

The country’s total fertility rate, or the average number of babies a woman is expected to have during her lifetime, stood at 1.24 as of 2015, far below the 2.1 needed to prevent a drop in the population.

A low birthrate might be unavoidable in this modern era. However, the latest statistics should prompt us to think about what the government and society have been doing and what policymakers need to do to prevent a demographic crisis.

Countries that have succeeded in putting the brakes on a freefall in the fertility rate, such as France and the U.K., have spent 3 to 4 percent of their gross domestic product for many years fighting the decline.

In contrast, Korea, which only began to set aside a budget for boosting birthrate about 10 years ago, has been spending less than 1.5 percent of its GDP per annum. This alone could show that society is not yet taking the problem seriously.

Policymakers are right to say that the next several years are important for working out policies to prevent the aging of the population from becoming a national catastrophe. There is no time to hesitate. What is important is the prompt implementation of effective measures to elevate the birthrate from now on.

The government should encourage women to marry and have children by providing greater incentives for childbirth and state-initiated child care support. It also needs to realize, for instance, that the heavy burden of providing private tutoring for children is one of the main factors that force people to give up on or delay marriage and having children.
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