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Despite Measures, Fertility Rate Falls

Posted May. 09, 2006 04:18,   


Korea’s total fertility rate was 1.17 in 2002, 1.19 in 2003 and 1.16 in 2004, showing a slightly declining trend. Nevertheless, it further dropped to less than 1.10 in 2005 despite the government’s introduction of countermeasures including the enactment of “Low Birth Rate, Aging Society Act.”

“Internally, we regarded the lowest level to be 1.16 and the Maginot line to be 1.10 last year. The problem of a low fertility rate and aging society is growing faster than expected,” the Ministry of Health and Welfare expressed its concern. Some predict that Korea will soon become an aged society with a shortage of economically active population, increased tax and social welfare costs, and depletion of the national pension fund, which will in turn lead to weaker national competitiveness.

In addition, some argue that current administration’s key agendas and policies regarding industries and education must be overhauled. In other words, the government needs to design a new national framework to take into account low fertility rates.

What is more worrying is that declining fertility rate is wrecking great havoc in the nation as the rate falls faster than in Japan, which experienced the problem earlier. The total fertility rate of Japan was 1.57 in 1989 and 1.29 last year, but it is showing a slower pace of decline.

Other countries with the same problem, such as the U.K. and France, are seeing their fertility rates increase slightly or stay constant for the past five years.

The reasons behind the falling fertility rates include increased female participation in the society, late marriages and old-age childbearing, rising housing costs, employment instability, poor childrearing environment and high private education fees. Indeed, the latest survey results show that pregnant women in their 30s, accounting for 51.3 percent, outnumber those in their 20s, accounting for 47.9 percent, for the first time ever in Korea.

Population reduction caused by low fertility rates is already a serious problem in rural areas.

A small town in Euiryeong, Gyeongnam Province, home to 120 residents in 60 households, has had no newborn since the youngest resident of the town was born 15 years ago.

“There is no young couple to have babies,” the town leader in his 50s sighed.

“Despite of the government’s childbirth-inducing policies, young people’s changed perception of marriage and childbirth will make it difficult to raise the fertility rate. It is time that the government reorganized the social system to respond to plunging fertility rates and fast-aging population,” said professor Cho Yong-tae of Graduate School of Public Health at Seoul National University.

Na-Yeon Lee larosa@donga.com