Bringing up baby

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Bringing up baby

Jeon Jae-hee, the minister for health, welfare and family affairs, is often heard saying, “There is no better way to become a patriot than giving birth.”

The fertility rate is seriously low. It went up slightly in 2007 before falling again to 1.19 last year. Some even forecast that it will dip below 1 this year with the economic turmoil. Our fertility rate is already one of the lowest in the world and it is plummeting.

The fall in the fertility rate, combined with an increase in the elderly population, portends a gloomy future - workforce shortages and low labor productivity.

Consumption, savings and investment will shrink while the burden on the national pension program and health insurance system will increase. As a result, economic growth may shrink and our society could lose its vitality.

The central and local governments have recently introduced various measures to encourage families to have more children.

Measures include providing subsidies for prenatal checkups and nursery school or day care fees, and making it easier for parents to take leave.

Larger families will be taxed less and see more returns from the national pension program. President Lee Myung-bak ordered that families with three or more children be given benefits in purchasing housing.

But no one knows yet how effective these measures will prove. According to last year’s statistics, the decline in the number of couples having their first child was much bigger than the fall in the number of parents having second or third children.

An increasing number of young people in their 20s and 30s are avoiding marriage and having children.

How can this trend be reversed? Jeon said the welfare ministry was looking into introducing a French-style system, in which once a baby is born, the country brings up the baby until it comes of age.

Such a system would require 19 trillion won ($12.3 billion) annually. It is not easy at all to find resources to provide such a huge outlay.

An alternative would be to prioritize and implement the measures that would help parents who both work.

The burden on parents will be considerably lightened if they can find sufficient reliable day care centers for reasonable fees, and if schools run extracurricular classes to care for children until parents come home from work. This basic system must be put in place in order to have more “patriots.”
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