Losing our productive peopleAccording to the 2010 census by Statistics Korea, the country’s key productive population (ages 25 to 49) fell to 19.53 million, down more than 360,000 from five years ago.
The fall in the key work force is the first decline in the 49-year history of census data. The demographic figures suggest the broad population base will start declining in about eight years.
A low birthrate is the primary reason behind the decline. Korea’s birthrate was 1.22 last year, compared with 4.53 in 1970. The generation of baby boomers born from 1955 to 1963 is retiring from the work force.
Such a demographic decline has enormous economic and social repercussions. It depresses productivity and consumer spending, leading to a lethargic economy and weak growth potential. Welfare and health care subsidies will have to increase to support a larger nonworking population.
The country’s national pension will dry up in the next 50 years. The core social safety net - national health insurance and pension - will be in jeopardy sooner or later.
Demographic structure is the foundation of a country and the starting point of its future. A declining population cannot sustain growth in social development. Overall living standards will have to be downgraded.
Perhaps we wanted to avoid the reality of our impending demographic decline. The government, after all, resorted to makeshift measures and patted itself on the back for encouraging childbearing through incentives for working women.
And we may have deceived ourselves by thinking a low birthrate could be solved through child care incentives and a campaign against illegal abortions.
Many are shunning marriage, and nearly half of the local governments report more deaths than births annually. It’s clear that a new demographic policy cannot rest merely on child care incentives.
Korea is heading for decline if its population falls, and we must address the problem. We need to come up with a comprehensive map to change not only our strategies on child care and education, but also on family and marriage values.
To present fresh hope and a new vision for the future to the younger generation, we must reverse the downward trend in demographics. If we temporize, our future generation may live in a land swarming with immigrants or have no country at all.