[Letters] The challenges of Korea’s low birthrate and aging society

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[Letters] The challenges of Korea’s low birthrate and aging society

When the G-20 Summit leaders and the world focus their attention on Korea’s leadership in November this year, one challenge will stand out: Korea’s low birthrate and aging society. Countries certainly could wish to learn from Korea’s experience and the actions being taken to address or solve these social issues.

How will Korean society increase its birthrate? How will social institutions prepare for the burdens of an aging society?

Korea’s birthrate is gradually decreasing, and will increasingly be considered a threat to national security. Korea has now one of the lowest birthrates in the world. If this rate will continue to remain, the total population of Korea will be 44 million people in 2050. By 2100, there will only be 16 million people in Korea.

To make matters worse, the average age expectancy is also increasing. In other words, the proportion of the population who are 65 years old and over will increase. Consequently the aging society will bring new burdens of dependency, lower productivity, higher costs for health and social services and a crisis in government tax revenues and expenditures. With fewer productive workforce, there will be a decrease in the gross domestic product. Certainly, with fewer young workers, Korea’s national competitiveness will weaken. A lower GDP means a lower base for the government’s tax revenues. On the other hand, the government will require higher social expenditures to address the needs of the ageing population, in terms of health care, food and other social services.

Given these prospects, a fewer number of productive people, including foreigners, will decide to remain in Korea, and seek a better social environment in other countries. The threat to Korea’s national security is indeed eminent, and drastic measures must now be undertaken by the community, social organizations as well as government leaders.

According to many research reports, there are various causes of a society’s low birthrate. Korea has achieved the status of being an advanced, developed society for many years. In spite of a lot of progress and industrialized economy status, Korea has high unemployment, due to the global recession and its long-term effects in business and the labor market.

Many young people who graduate from college could not find a decent job. Some graduates find a job, but many face the problem of a mismatch in their skills and the available job vacancies. Although a few graduates succeed in getting a job, they are still very worried about their job security and income stability. For these reasons, many young people do not marry early in life or decide not to have a baby. Parents spend a lot of money to send their children to college, especially in private institutions. In Korean society, if students don’t go to a good university, it is natural that they can’t get a job. With these social pressures, young people are not in a hurry to marry and raise babies.

With the G-20 Summit leaders just around the corner, the eyes of the world will be upon Korea. It is important for members of society to contribute to solve the problems of a low birthrate, and the expected burdens of an ageing society.

Alongside discussions to stabilize the global economy and financial markets, as well as sustained job creation after the global recession, the leaders of the G-20 need to recognize that Korea’s problems of a low birthrate and aging society are not isolated, but common among developed countries.

There is certainly a need to re-examine policies and practices, to learn the best approaches which will bring about a stable population with more babies or a higher birthrate, and mitigating the impact of an aging population on existing systems of health care, insurance and social security. It is important to ask whether existing incentives and programs to help parents care for their newborn babies are enough and working well.

Kang Soong-ho, student at Hanyang University
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