Diagnosis of the Times of the Catholic Peace Weekly by a Catholic University professor gives the readers an interesting look at our Korean birth rate.
Our country's low birth rate is unprecedented in world history. In 2022, the total fertility rate (the average number of births a woman is expected to give birth to during her childbearing period) was 0.78, and predictions are made that it may collapse to 0.7 in 2023. The New York Times diagnosed that Korea's ultra-low birth rate was a result of a population decline greater than that of Europe during the Black Death.
If this diagnosis is correct, our country’s ultra-low birth rate phenomenon is a disaster. Korea's total fertility rate entered the 1-point range (1.74) for the first time in 1984 and collapsed to the 1-point level in 2018 (0.98). In 2003, low birth rates began to emerge as a social agenda in our society. In 2002, the total fertility rate was the lowest in the world, recording 1.17. Since then, our society has dealt with the birth rate issue as a social agenda for over 20 years. As a result, a large budget was invested that was previously unimaginable. However, Korea's budget investment remains at the bottom, ranking 31st out of 38 OECD countries as of 2022. At this point, it can be said that our country's low birth rate measures have failed, despite efforts made over the past 20 years.
Various diagnoses were raised regarding this ‘failure’. One of them is that women's avoidance of childbirth is believed to be at the root of the failure. They argue that we need to create policies and a social atmosphere that encourages women to give birth. Examples include restricting women's participation in the labor market or providing incentives to women who have given birth. The idea that childbirth can be encouraged is at the root of the recent anecdote in which the chairman of a certain company offered 100 million won per child to employees who gave birth. However, this one-time provision alone cannot solve the low birth rate problem. Because the problem of low birth rates is not this simple.
The low birth rate problem cannot be solved with money alone.
To look back on past ‘failures’ and find solutions, the low birth rate problem must be viewed as the result of people’s rational choices based on cost calculation. In other words, the low birth rate problem is not due to people's wrong actions, but the result of people's rational choices to survive. People believe that to adapt and live in Korean society, they cannot get married, and even if they do get married, it is foolish to have children.
When we view the ultra-low birth rate problem as a rational choice of people and a natural phenomenon, the low birth rate cannot be solved simply with money. The issue is not that simple. Policies of various government ministries must be actively implemented under long-term plans with changes in the overall educational system including the cost of private education for children, cutthroat competition and long working hours, lack of cultural infrastructure, and expensive housing costs. However, it seems impossible to expect this from the current government. This is because the current government's family policy is mainly limited to raising the existing benefit level for childbirth and childcare. The basic birth income and housing support measures proposed by the opposition Democratic Party are somewhat advanced from existing policies. Still, it is unclear whether these alone will solve the low birth rate problem.