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  • Eugene Kwon

South Korea’s Devastating Population Decrease

Written by Eugene Kwon

South Korea is currently experiencing the worst population crisis of all time. Since 2013, it has been ranked last in terms of birth rates within the OECD, and their national birth rate is an average of 0.78, less than 1. What’s even worse is that Seoul's birth rate is lower, as it has an average of 0.59. 249,000 babies were born in 2022, which is a decrease of 4.4% from the previous year. South Korea is continuing to reach its lowest birth rates every single year, and situations are not getting better. Experts say that the country needs to have at least a birth rate of 2.1 to keep the population stable at the current 52 million. On the other hand, with the current trend, the population is expected to shrink to 37 million by 2070. Solutions that will boost the country’s birth rate are urgently needed, and must be implemented rapidly. However, it is important to analyze the primary reasons behind the low birth rates in order to produce an efficient solution. 

There are two main factors that influence the birth rate: economic barriers and societal prejudice. 

South Korea currently has a poor unemployment rate of 62.7%. Especially for young people, jobs are becoming more scarce. In addition, real estate prices continue to rise, and rent is becoming more expensive every day. In fact, in 2021, real estate prices in the Seoul area will have increased by 24%. For young men and women in South Korea, it is already difficult to create a sufficient lifestyle for themselves. Many say that it is a financial burden to support a baby, especially when both parents are working, as they would need to hire a babysitter or apply for an extensive daycare service. Not only this, they would need to pay for the baby’s necessities, such as food, clothing, healthcare, and education. Also, this doesn’t only apply when the child is young. As they grow older into middle school and high school, the financial burden doesn’t leave the parents and sometimes even worsens. 

Next is societal prejudice. While many are now gone, because South Korea originated in a Confucian society, there is still a lot of pressure that a woman can feel when having a child. For instance, there are incidents where women are disliked in a workplace just because they used their maternal leave. Also, it is hard for many women to resume their careers after giving birth because of the long career break. For example, 39% of women claim that they have been discriminated against in their workplace just because of their use of maternal leave. 

Then what has the government done so far to resolve this situation? The government spent approximately 210 billion dollars in the past 16 years to change the trend of decreasing population. President Yoon recently implemented a plan that pays $540 for a family that has a child less than one year old. Also, the government is trying to reduce working time, improve daycare facilities, and create affordable housing. 

However, what’s most important is to create a society where having children is not considered a burden. In order to accomplish this, some critical problems need to be solved. First, the youth need to be financially stable. If an individual is having a hard time supporting themselves, it would be absurd to encourage them to create a family. Workplaces need to increase, and real estate prices must settle down. The government needs to offer housing that is lower than the market price and offer loans with low interest rates. Also, workplaces must implement work from home policies, which allow parents to spend more time with their children. Lastly, free and high quality daycare centers and kindergartens must be created so that parents can work without disturbance. 

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