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Will New Gov`t Incentives Raise Nat`l Birth Rate?

Posted September. 09, 2010 11:43,   


The rough outline of the new government plan to tackle the low birth rate and rapidly aging population is drawing the attention of working mothers.

To be implemented from next year to 2016, the plan will allow working mothers to use their parental leave anytime up to when their child reaches 8 years old, up from age 6.

Their leave wage will be increased to 40 percent of their monthly salary (up to 1 million won or 850 U.S. dollars) from the existing level of 500,000 won (425 dollars).

Childcare Web sites were flooded with hundreds of comments Wednesday on the new measures. Many favored the new plan because it included a cut in working hours and a variety of support for employment and residence, whereas the existing plan focused on childcare fees.

Many, however, remain skeptical over how many mothers will benefit from the new measures.

A 34-year-old working mother hesitant about having a second child said, “I can barely buy baby milk and diapers with just 500,000 won a month. I will consider having a second child if I receive up to 40 percent of my wage while on parental leave.”

Another working mother, 29, also welcomed the new plan, saying, “The government measures will definitely make me feel more comfortable in taking parental leave.”

Experts also welcomed the new plan, saying the government has finally started to consider the birth rate and childcare as a social matter rather than on an individual level.

Lee Ju-ri, a child welfare professor at ChungAng University in Seoul, said, “Our society is at a stage where people can bear a lighter social and economic burden for better childbirth and childcare.”

Critics say, however, that the plan only benefits regular workers at large companies. One female employee, 30, said she was pressured to resign from her company when she asked for parental leave, saying, “It’s not a question of parental leave. I can’t even take maternity leave.”

Another working mother, 32, said, “I wonder how many people can get more than 500,000 won for paid parental leave. It’s easier for the company to hire a substitute so that people can take leave without feeling so uncomfortable.”

Others say the new measures focus on households with infants. A 34-year-old working father who has two children said, “Educational costs have shot up after our children started school. My wife is even telling people not to have children.”

Another working father, 32, said, “The bank I work for pays 100 percent of base salary over six months to those taking parental leave. What I need is not a tiny salary increase but a place where I can leave my children without being worried.”

Housewives are also complaining. A 34-year-old mother said, “Non-dual income families feel the financial pinch more in preparing for childbirth and vaccination costs.”

Fears are growing that the expansion of the parental leave and flexible work systems will make companies reluctant to hire women or exclude them from major posts. A 31-year-old mother said, “Even mothers admit that those taking parental leave cannot fully commit to their job. The situation is worse for our husbands as they can be relegated to a trivial job.”

Hong Seung-ah, a family policy researcher at the Korean Women’s Development Institute, said, “Institutional strategies that prevent discrimination at workplaces should be set up for the parental leave system to operate properly. Promoting parental leave for fathers is crucial, too.”

woohaha@donga.com isityou@donga.com