Policies to Boost Childbirth Have Missed the Point

      December 27, 2016 13:25

      Statistics Korea surveyed 1.18 million couples who have been married less than five years and found that one in three have no children. Narrowed down to couples who have been married between three and five years, the figure is still at 19.3 percent, and couples who are married for four years have only an average of 1.1 children.

      In other words, even the dwindling numbers who do not shun marriage altogether often decide to have no children or just one child.

      The government has spent W81 trillion in the last decade trying to boost Korea's low birthrate, but instead it has simply declined further (US$1=W1,202).

      The working-age population is expected to peak this year and gradually decline starting in 2017. Early this year, the government announced a yet another set of measures aimed at boosting the birthrate with spending of W21 trillion, but that is unlikely to make much difference either.

      Why is the trend so difficult to turn around? Births have fallen to about 400,000 a year and seem to be headed for 300,000 if nobody will have more than one child.

      Two factors play a decisive role -- whether couples own their home and whether both partners work to make a living. Among couples where one partner, usually the woman, can afford to stay at home, 70 percent have children, but among double earners the figure is at only 57.9 percent. That shows how tough it is to raise a child in Korea for parents who need to go to work.

      The trouble is that one out of two couples who married recently are double-income earners, and unless the government completely overhauls its policies to take account of them, nothing will change.

      Businesses must be persuaded to become more accommodating to pregnant employees, and it will have to become easier for young couples to buy their home. The present policy, which is focused on rewarding households with three or more children, completely misses the point. It is couples with one or no children who need encouragement.

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