In a desperate effort to raise its birthrate, central and provincial governments of South Korea are giving financial incentives and other measures to try to encourage young people to have more babies.
South Korea’s birth rate is one of the lowest in the world. It’s total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime — stood at 1.24 in 2015, much lower than the replacement level of 2.1 that would keep South Korea’s population of 51 million stable.
Government’s data reveals that many young people delay marriage as they cannot find decent jobs amid a prolonged economic slowdown. The unemployment rate for young people between 15 and 29 years of age reached 8.4 percent in December, much higher than the overall jobless rate of 3.2 percent.
Head of Cheongyang County, Lee Suk-hwa said his county began last year to give 10 million won to parents who have a fourth baby as part of efforts to encourage more young people to have more babies in rural areas. He also said his county has set up a 20 billion won fund to offer scholarships for college students from Cheongyang.
Similarly, Mayor of Bucheon, Kim Man-soo, said his city has revised an ordinance to offer, among other things, 10 million won to parents who have a fourth baby to boost the city’s birthrate — the lowest in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul. In the past, Bucheon only gave 500,000 won to parents who have a third baby.
In the 1960’s, South Korea adopted a birth control policy to stem rapid population growth at a time when the country was rebuilding its economy from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War. At that time, the government dispatched officials to every house in rural areas to teach them about family planning. It also provided vasectomy services to reserve forces free of charge to try to lower the rapid population growth.
Government statistics reveal that more than 651,000 men received the surgical sterilization procedure from 1962 to 1983.
Government slogans warned that people could “end up being beggars if they give birth to children” without family planning.
The government encouraged people to have only one child with slogans such as “A second child is too much” and “A population explosion is scarier than a nuclear explosion.”
The aggressive birth control policy lowered the country’s total fertility rate to 2.06 in 1983 from 6.0 in 1960. It fell to a record low of 1.08 in 2005, a dramatic demographic transition that served as a wakeup call to South Korea over its population policy.
South Korea has since been struggling to reverse the demographic decline by offering a set of incentives to young people. Government slogans on childbirth have also undergone a sea change from dire warnings to hope. One of the slogans issued after 2005 reads “a baby is the joy of a family and hope for the future.”
The government spent more than 101.6 trillion won from 2006 to 2016 to encourage people to have more babies, though it was not enough to boost the low birthrate. The government said it has set aside more than 22.4 trillion won this year to help raise the country’s birthrate.
Experts have expressed concerns that the aging population, coupled with a low birthrate, pose a serious threat to Asia’s fourth-largest economy, as it could lead to fewer working people and increased spending on health and welfare.