[EDITORIALS]The crisis of too few babiesLast year the nation’s fertility rate ― the number of babies that an average woman would have between the ages of 15 and 49 ― slid to 1.08, from 1.16 in 2004. The reading is a record low not only for Korea, but for the world.
It would not be far-fetched to say the situation is something close to a national disaster. Considering that the minimum fertility rate required to keep a population level is 2.1, having married couples give birth to only one child each makes us wonder if our society will last for long.
Given that the fall of the fertility rate has rapidly picked up speed, the recent series of countermeasures by the government appears unlikely to have any effect. Today’s younger generation is not willing to make more babies just because they will receive a petty amount of financial aid from the government.
What is crucial in resolving this issue is finding exactly what is causing the decline. Experts cite an increasingly late age of marriage and a widespread reluctance to tie the knot as the major reasons for the low birth rate.
They say lingering unemployment has been keeping youth from getting married. A state-run research institute recently issued a report saying that an economic recovery could raise the fertility rate up to 1.4. In a nutshell, the economy matters.
The excessive cost of private education is also a major obstacle to marriage. Few people will be willing to give birth to more than two babies unless those issues are resolved.
Childcare is another matter that the government will have to cope with. When he was inaugurated, President Roh Moo-hyun promised that his administration would fully support households with children. Three years later, the government has yet to come up with any effective measures.
A suggested policy of offering large amounts of financial aid to childcare facilities has been dragging on for over a year.
Although the ruling party and the administration recently announced that they would allow fathers to take days off when their wives give birth to babies, now the government says the holiday time should be taken from the worker’s annual vacation.
The government does not appear to be taking the matter seriously. Plans to fight the fall in the birth rate should have been prepared since 1983, when the fertility rate was 2.1.
We cannot postpone the settlement of the matter any longer. This is now a national crisis.