[Viewpoint] A happy society breeds childrenThe low birthrate has become a hot topic in Korea. The total fertility rate for Korea is barely over 1, and it is probably correct to say that the country is faced with its lowest fertility rate ever.
Why does Korea find itself in this position? Since the government did not ban childbirth, it was the outcome of each individual’s choice.
Until a decade ago, a job was a precondition for a man and age was a standard for a woman to get married. When a man had a job, he got married. When a woman reached a certain age, she got married.
But the pattern saw a problem. In the aftermath of the economic crisis, more and more youngsters became jobless and the job crisis became prolonged. Amid the process of increasing the labor market flexibility, job stability was shaken and uncertainty has become a way of life for Korean youngsters.
Facing an uncertain future, they postponed marriages and stayed in school. For women, jobs were no longer a subject of choice. Taking into account Korea’s gender discrimination in the labor market, women’s battle to find jobs brought about marriages delays. As more youngsters delay marriages, less and less babies have been born.
That’s only a small part of the story. It is incredibly difficult for a family with children to maintain balance between work and home. Reliable child care facilities are scarce, and it seems nearly impossible for husbands to participate in child rearing in Korea, which is notorious for its long office hours for most workers.
In Korea, everyone must go to university, so parents suffer from the burden of incredibly expensive private education fees. Under such a circumstance, it appears to be a rational decision for a married couple not to have children.
The cause of Korea’s low birthrate encompasses all the problems of our society. The job crisis for young people, a gender discriminatory labor market, a male-oriented family system, discrimination against educational backgrounds, discrimination against non-typical families and abortion are just a few to mention. That is why we have to deal with the low birthrate in a comprehensive manner.
Recently, research has shown that a society’s total fertility rate goes up when the human development index reaches a certain level or higher. Based on my analysis, OECD member countries with higher gender empowerment measurement showed higher rates of fertility.
Interestingly enough, countries with the lowest birthrates such as Korea and Japan showed high human development index scores, while extremely low scores of gender empowerment measurement.
Gender equality and social values based on this idea are closely linked to the birthrate.
Next year the government is planning to set forth a new master plan to counter low fertility and an aging society known as the Seromazi Plan. Until now, the policy has been focused on welfare programs for low-income households, and critics have pointed out its inefficiency. It is time to change the paradigm of the policy.
The key to low fertility in Korea is the youngsters who want to get married but are unable to do so. Resolving unemployment issues for these people should be the focus of the new policy.
And yet, the birthrate differs among married women between full-time homemakers and working wives. Society needs to provide support to these families so both men and women can maintain a balance between work and home.
To this end, men, women, local and central governments and companies must work together to give birth and raise children.
When all members of society can cooperate to build a happy community, the abnormal low in fertility will disappear.
There are many tasks waiting to be resolved, but it is most important to create a society environment in which both men and women are guaranteed the right to maintain work and home, side by side.
The writer is a researcher at the Korean Women’s Development Institute.
by Park Soo-mi