[OUTLOOK]A Reversal on Our Population ConcernsThough human beings cannot live for more than several minutes without air, people do not breathe with conscious effort. Water is another vital natural resource.
Only recently have people recognized that air should be managed to maintain its quality and water is an economic good. Why only air and water? Many things once considered the "wise providence of Heaven" are passing into the human domain. But as we see in the case of air and water, people tend to forget the importance of things essential to life. If we fail to protect these essentials the result will be catastrophe.
A recent report by the National Statistical Office warns of a fundamental problem. With strong family planning projects since the 1960s, Korea has established "small birth, small death" of a modern society, moving from "much birth, much death."
In France, where this phenomenon first occurred, the transformation required 70 years for the country to cut the birthrate by 10 percent; other European countries saw 30 to 40 years pass before this milestone was reached. Korea has reached this mark in only 20 years. In 1984, the average married woman was expected to give birth to two children, signaling a diminishing of the population over the long-term. The report by the National Statistical Office shows that the nation's population will decline soon.
According to the report, Korea's population of 47 million in 2000 will increase to 50 million in 2013, reaching 51 million in 2023, then the population will start to decrease. In 2050, the population of Korea will be an estimated 44 million. With a decreasing birthrate and aging due to the extension of the average life span, which translates into a smaller population for production, people 65 and over will account for 14.4 percent of the population in 2019, compared with 7.2 percent today, the report says.
Korea will see a rapid increase in the number of senior citizens. In 2001, 9.9 people of the productive population supports one senior, in the year 2020, 4.7 people will support one senior citizen, and 2.8 persons will support one senior in 2030. What these projected changes suggest is clear. Korean society has fallen into symptoms of premature old age in many aspects and is in a long-term diminishing of social viability.
It is impossible to reverse the trends of population decrease and population restructuring. So, we should decide the direction of our population policy with long-term prospects in mind and looking ahead at least one generation.
I think now is the time for us to upgrade family planning based only on the family unit to long-term national planning. Though there are a few other theories, the desirable population model is not a sudden decrease or increase but a slow increase, and the slow increase is accompanied by an expansion of economic power and a higher quality of life.
The way to achieve this is to increase childbirths to three per family. It now stands at 1.5. Considering the trend of marriage avoidance and birth avoidance, we should construct social systems where a newly married couple can receive the maximum social benefits when the couple has three children. Taking into consideration the European countries that adopted this population policy a few decades ago but failed to reverse the population trend, Korea should target a population appropriate to our society. The increase in immigration should also be considered in national population planning.
The Korean government should prepare plans to accommodate foreign workers, whose numbers already exceed 200,000, and deal with the influx of women from Southeast Asia to alleviate the bride shortage in agricultural areas. In Japan, some insist on breathing fresh air into society by importing 2 million workers from foreign countries instead of cracking down on illegal immigrants.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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