[EDITORIALS]Reversing the baby bustPopulation growth is rapidly slowing down. The natural growth rate, which stood at 11.0 births for every 1,000 persons in 1993, has dropped to 5.1 births in just a decade. In the same period, deaths of infants decreased by 0.3, clearly indicating that a low birthrate is the key reason for the sluggish increase in population.
Economists claim that a population of 100 million is necessary for a sustainable cycle of production and consumption. As a divided nation with a limited market, a slow-growing population is not good news for our economy. But we have yet to see the government come up with a clear-cut answer to the shrinking population problem. In January, the Blue House’s task force team on the population and aging society announced 20 government strategies, and a presidential committee on the aging society and the future has been set up. In June, the committee announced a government support policy for those aged 8 and under. For farm households, the committee has pledged a helper for one month to each household with a baby. But that is about it.
After the financial crisis, two-income families have become a necessity, not an option. At the end of June, only 47 percent of the workplaces in Korea had child care facilities, a tiny 1.3 percent increase over last year. A 2003 estimate of working mothers who entrusted their children to child care stood at 55 percent, far below the average of the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Educational Broadcasting System’s airing of preparatory lessons for high school seniors is attributed to having lowered educational costs for families. But many families still worry about educational spending. Against such a background, it is nearly useless to urge people to have children. Parents must be assured that children will be brought up well by society.
Should this situation continue, academics warn that the population will begin to decline in about 2020. We don’t have much time to waste; the government should step up its efforts to address the low birth rate in the nation. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has proposed that each Singaporean household have three children in order to compete and win the economic race with India and China. He has promised baby bonuses for fourth and fifth children. When will our government stop poring over road maps and do something?