[EDITORIALS]Wanted: more babiesThe Ministry of Health and Welfare, in its briefing on family planning made to the presidential transition committee, clearly stated that the time has come for the government to seriously consider encouraging more births. Underlying that statement is the stark reality that low birth rates and an aging population are altering this nation's demographics.
In order for a nation to maintain its population level, a woman of childbearing age must deliver 2.1 babies. But Korean women last year recorded 1.3 babies. That level falls short of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's average of 1.6 to 1.7 babies. And it took Korea far less time to enter a period of low births compared to other countries. In fact, Korea took only half the time it took Japan and the Netherlands. Those people 65 or older, who make up 7.9 percent of the population, are expected make up 14 percent of the population by 2010.
If the trend continues, by 2010 the country will face a labor shortage. By 2020, the entire population will shrink. If that happens, economic growth will lag and the burdens of social welfare will increase.
A low birth rate signifies a higher level of education and the growing presence of women in the work force. Added to that are a greater hesitancy toward marriage by women, a growing tendency toward staying single and the world's third-highest divorce rate. Thus, the government will do well to start resolving realistic and immediate issues at hand, such as sharing the burdens of child rearing and establishing mid- to long-term social policies to prop up the birth rate. The governments of Japan, Singapore and Taiwan have child-birth incentive policies from which Korea could learn much.
Korea has poor natural resources, To maintain national competitiveness, Korea needs to ensure a sound demographic pool and to provide its people with relevant education. Any policy to control population requires time to reap the effects, which leaves us with the feeling that it might be a bit late to shift policies to push up a low birth rate after three decades of curtailing that rate.