March 10, 2020 08:35
The central and local governments spent more than W200 trillion to boost the low birthrate but it continues to decline (US$1=W1,202).
According to Statistics Korea, the country's total fertility rate fell to 0.92 last year from 0.98 a year earlier, standing at less than one child for two straight years. Korea is the only country among the 36 OECD member nations with a birthrate below one child per woman over her lifetime.
Only 303,100 children were born here last year. The number has been below 400,000 since 2017, raising concerns that it will fall below 300,000. With deaths at 295,100, the natural population increase was a mere 8,000 last year, down 20,000 or 71.7 percent from a year earlier.
"While the number of deaths increases slowly, the number of births is falling rapidly," said Kim Jin at Statistics Korea. "If this trend continues, the population will start decreasing from this year."
The low birthrate is largely due to a dwindling number of marriages, which many Koreans feel they cannot afford. The number of marriages stood at 239,210 last year, down 7.1 percent from 2018.
Another reason is that more women give birth later in life. The average age of new mothers rose from 29.8 years in 2009 to 32.2 last year. The proportion of women who gave birth at over 35 surpassed 30 percent for the first time in 2018 and rose to 33.3 percent last year.
Statistics Korea assumes that women can get pregnant until the age of 49, but in reality most women give birth in their 20s and 30s. As new mothers are getting older, the period until they have a second or third child decreases but many have no more.
The government has spent W210.59 trillion to tackle the low birthrate for the last 14 years but failed to solve the problem. It has injected W185 trillion into any number of projects to encourage childbirth since 2006. Local governments have also spent W25 trillion since 2008.
Last year the government set aside W32.36 trillion to stimulate childbirth, surpassing W30 trillion for the first time. This year the amount increases to W37.61 trillion, accounting for 7.3 percent of the entire budget of W512.3 trillion.
But nothing, from childcare allowance to increasing daycare facilities, has worked. "Short-term money doesn't persuade couples to have children when they need to spend a lot of money on housing and other living expenses," said Lee Sam-sik at Hanyang University. "To boost the low birthrate, the government needs to come up with long-term measures to reduce the cost of raising children."
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