[Letters] Exploring ‘belief adherence space’Foreign onlookers view the political, economic, societal and cultural landscapes of a country against the backdrop of the nation’s elements of national capacity, which translates into national development.
In the case of Korea, it is prudent to contemplate extensively on the basic elements of national capacity because the country scores exceptionally high on other counts. The “Basic Elements” of national capacity include land and population. The center of attention at this juncture is population only. Korea was an impoverished part of the world in the early 1960s. Per capita annual income was $87 in 1962. The causes of Seoul’s unremitting misery and poverty were probed when the Korean fertility rate was 6.0 children per woman. Overpopulation emerged as a major explanation.
Consequently, the Korean government with massive aid from international and foreign agencies aggressively passed out contraception and made abortion easy and inexpensive to curb population growth besides ramping up economic indicators. Within a single generation, Korea has transformed beyond imagination. The gross domestic product (GDP) rose to $1.1 trillion and fertility rate reduced to 1.1 children per woman in 2005-2006. Alarm bells are ringing since total fertility rates (TFR) below 2.1 are below the replacement rate.
The belief that increase in food production is an arithmetic progression and the population growth is a geometric progression proved to be fatal. The Korean government, which subscribed to this belief and sought to stem population growth, began retooling to the exact opposite.
Urbanization acts as catalyst in the acute decline of the fertility rate. To be Korean today means to be an urbanite. To be urban and modern means to have fewer children. Urbanization also breeds exorbitant costs of living. The enormous financial burden of education rules out the option of having families for most Koreans, making one-child or no-child families a norm.
A recovery in the Korean birth rate is certainly possible with changes in attitudes on women’s roles in society along with the establishment of programs and policies by government and businesses. Korea is striving hard to overcome the menace of low fertility but the question is how to change the mind-sets that can change attitudes.
It is an assessment that had the population growth rate of the 1960s remained unchanged it would have neither hindered the economic progress of South Korea nor would any of the children have died of famine. The belief that population growth helps economic productivity is evident in the case of Korea. It is a manifestation of the belief that every child brings his “RIZQ” (an Arabic word encompassing food, shelter, clothes and other life necessities) for his whole life.
About half of Korea’s population claimed no adherence to any form of religion. Religion is a set of beliefs.
It is of high value and need to study and research those sets of beliefs that have prevented communities in the world from demographic crises. True sets of beliefs per se are the divine messages for a complete code of life for which keen analysis is required. The Korean Peninsula has a very high belief adherence space (approximately 50% of its population), and the country occupies a unique position on the world’s religious map. The message here is that Korea’s available “belief adherence space” possesses tremendous potential to resolve its alarming demographic crisis.
By Muhammad Nadeem,
Ex-KOICA participant & management consultant in the public sector organization of Pakistan