Korea ‘trapped’ by low fertility rate: Experts

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Korea ‘trapped’ by low fertility rate: Experts

Korean social scientists said that Korea is “trapped” in a low fertility rate and they predict that the situation will remain the same for a long time.

When a country’s total fertility rate - which is the average number of children born to each woman in the course of her child-bearing years (15-49) - is below 1.5 babies per 1,000, it is categorized as a low fertility country. A country’s birth rate, in contrast, is a measure of the number of births per 1,000 population.

According to recent research, Korea is categorized as a low fertility country since it recorded 1.47 in TFR since 1998. The average for the rest of the world is 2.54. Choi Jin-ho, a social scientist at Ajou University, presented the results of the study on Tuesday at a forum on the low fertility rate and aging society, hosted by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

Choi said that Korea is trapped in a low fertility rate by satisfying three conditions as described by Austrian demographer Wolfgang Lutz in 2006. They are a decrease in the “ideal family size,” poor economic conditions for couples in their 20s and 30s and a decrease in the number of women of childbearing age.

The first factor involves young people being socialized into a circumstance of having few children, and this may result in a lower ideal family size in the next generation and after. The number of “ideal” children for young Korean couples was 2.8 in 1976, 2.2 in 2002 and 1.97 in 2010, Choi said. Poor economic conditions, in relation to a high unemployment rate, are a second factor. According to Statistics Korea, even though the overall unemployment rate is 3.3 percent in Korea, there are about 1.2 million Koreans in their 20s who have finished college-level education and are unemployed. Also one-third of working Koreans in their 20s are temporary workers. Choi said it makes young Koreans’ living conditions unstable and causes a delay in marriage. As a result, the delay affects young couples in limiting the number of children because they are not able to earn enough money for raising children in their early marriage years. The third factor is a decreased number of women of childbearing age. The population for women aged 15-49 was 13.8 million in 2002 and fell to 13.3 million last year.

“The young Koreans with college degrees have been seeking high quality office jobs and it caused them to be unemployed for a long time due to high competition, which means they will hesitate to have their babies in their early marriage period due to financial difficulties because they are not able to earn enough money for nurture.” Choi said. “The government should provide stronger childbirth encouragement policies in order to increase the fertility rate,” he said.

The total fertility rate hypothesis was developed by Lutz and his two colleagues to explain the low fertility rate in Europe, Japan and Korea. They studied the phenomenon that once the fertility rate falls below a certain level and stays there for a sufficient time, it can produce a self-reinforcing demographic regime change that is difficult or impossible to reverse.

By Shin Sung-sik, Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

한국 ‘저출산 덫’ 헤어나기 어렵다

아주대 최진호 교수 포럼서 주장

한국이 저출산의 덫(Low Fertility Trap)에 빠졌고 당분간 헤어나지 못할 것이라는 전망이 나왔다. 아주대 최진호(사회학) 교수는 12일 한국보건사회연구원에서 열린 제4차 100세 시대 대비 저출산·고령사회 포럼에서 이 같은 내용의 분석자료를 발표했다. 출산율이 1.5명 밑으로 떨어지면 저출산, 1.3명 미만이면 초저출산 사회라고 부르며 한국은 1998년 1.47명으로 저출산 국가가 됐고 그 상태를 유지하고 있다.

최 교수는 유럽 인구학자들이 사용하는 저출산의 덫 이론을 적용했다. 이론은 ▶가임여성과 출생아 수가 줄고(인구 측면) ▶결혼한 부부가 원하는 자녀 수가 감소하며(사회적 측면) ▶장래 기대소득이 젊은 층의 소비 수준을 따라오지 못하면(경제적 측면) 덫에 빠진 것으로 간주한다.

통계청에 따르면 가임여성(15~49세)은 지속적으로 상승하다 2002년 1379만 명에 도달한 뒤 지난해는 1335만 명이 됐다. 출생아 수도 70년대 이후 한두 해 잠깐 반등한 경우가 있긴 하지만 감소 추세를 바꿀 정도는 아니다. 결혼한 부부가 원하는 자녀 수도 두 명 밑으로 떨어졌다. 최 교수는 또 젊은 층의 장래 기대소득과 소비 수준의 차이를 입증하기 위해 고학력화와 청년실업 증가라는 간접적인 지표를 제시했다. 70년 일반계 고교 졸업생의 40.2%가 대학을 갔으나 지난해는 81.5%로 증가했다. 반면 20~29세 청년층 중 실업자가 증가하면서 지난해 실업자이거나 자발적 실업 상태에 있는 사람이 약 120만 명이었다. 취업 중인 청년층의 3분의 1이 비정규직이어서 고용 상태가 매우 불안정하다. 그는 “대졸자가 급증하고 부모의 도움을 받아 소비 수준이 높아졌으나 학력에 맞는 일자리를 갖기 힘들어졌다”며 “현재의 소비 수준에 맞게 소득을 올릴 수 없는 상황이기 때문에 결혼을 늦추고 아이를 적게 갖게 된다”고 설명했다. 이어 “지금보다 훨씬 강력한 출산장려 정책을 동원하지 않으면 저출산 현상이 상당히 오랜 기간 지속될 가능성이 크다”고 덧붙였다.

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