Published : 2013-01-27 19:16
Updated : 2013-01-27 19:16
It is good news but still far from relieving that the country’s fertility rate is estimated to have risen slightly to 1.3 children per woman last year. The rate, which means the average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime, needs to be at least 2.1 to keep the population from shrinking. In Korea, it has remained below that level since 1983, dipping to as low as 1.08 in 2005.
A projection by a presidential commission last week put the country’s fertility rate for 2012 at 1.3, up from the previous year’s 1.24, with the number of newborns increasing from 471,265 to about 486,000.
The national statistics office earlier said the number of newborns grew for the seventh consecutive month in November. With the figure for December not yet available, the commission used a three-year average for that month to make the estimate. If the projection is correct, it will mark the first time in 11 years that the rate has reached the demographically critical level of 1.3, lifting the country out of its super-low fertility status.
The improvement can be attributed to a set of policies pursued by the government to raise the chronically low birthrate, which is feared to combine with the rapidly aging population to undermine the nation’s growth potential. Corporations may get some credit for their family-friendly programs.
But Korea is in no position to be complacent. Its fertility rate is expected to continue to remain at the lowest level among the 34 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The average rate of the OECD stood at 1.74 in 2010.
If Korea’s fertility rate stays at 1.3, its working-age population will begin shrinking in 2017. By 2026, the country will become a super-aged society, in which people aged 65 or older account for more than 20 percent of the entire population.
These somber forecasts should lead to more efforts to increase the fertility rate for years to come. Government policymakers hope the rate will continue to rise gradually to 1.79 by 2045. They seem to be taking too easy a stance, considering the possible disastrous impact of demographic changes.
More effective measures should be implemented more rapidly to boost the fertility rate to at least 2.1 to avoid the population shrinking over the long term.
A lesson should be learned from the cases of some foreign countries, in which falling birthrates have been pushed up, but excessive spending on family and childcare support including children’s allowances has bloated fiscal deficits, exacerbating their economic difficulties.
Focus should be put on decreasing youth unemployment and particularly providing more well-paying jobs for young people. Securing stable economic conditions will help bring about a turnaround in the trend of delaying marriage and having fewer babies after starting families.