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[Opinion] Demographic Economics

Posted December. 11, 2007 03:09,   


Demographic economics deals with changes in demographics, variants that determine these changes, and the correlation between population increase and economic development. A well-known paradox in this field is that there is an inverse relationship between wealth and fertility rate. In other words, although parents in rich nations with high per capita GDP have relatively more financial means to raise more children, they give birth to a smaller number of children. The paradox was formed after taking account of some changes in demographics brought about by economic growth, including longer life expectancy, reductions in infant mortality and illiteracy, higher economic independence, and urbanization.

Human civilization began in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago with the emergence of farming. Thanks to developments in farming, more people can now be fed with the same unit of land. This triggered an exponential growth in population, followed by the emergence of social classes, political organizations, division of labor, and other inventions such as the wheel, letters and currency that define human civilization.

Thomas Malthus, an English economist, warned at the time that the world would face a catastrophe if it failed to suppress its explosive population growth because there would not be enough food to sustain the rise. However, his warning is now recorded as one of the most inaccurate predictions ever because development in farming technology made it possible to provide enough food.

Just one look at the academic seminar held by the Population Association of Korea at the end of last month is enough to realize that demographic economists have expanded their interests in new spheres of our society. According to one study, Korea is the only country among OECD member nations where the less the parents’ income, the less frequent their children visit their parents when they grow up. To be more specific, they are 2.07 times more likely to visit their parents more than once every week for every one-percent rise in their parents’ income. This is a surprising turn of events for a nation that has a Confucian tradition with a high emphasis on children’s obligations to their parents.

Another study revealed that while Koreans ask for financial help from other family members or relatives, they seek moral support from friends. One of the participants suggested that the demand for mid-and-large size apartments in Korea will continue to decline as the size of families shrinks. This is where demographic economics enter the housing market.

Editorial Writer Heo Seung-ho, tigera@donga.com