‘Labor pains’ worsening birth rateKorea has the lowest birth rate in the world, ranking 217th among 222 countries. This figure suggests that the average Korean woman bore fewer than 1.2 children as of last year. More women here are avoiding marriage or having children, and those who do have kids are in-creasingly content with just one.
Women cannot be blamed for this trend be-cause Korean society asks too much of them, de-manding a superwoman-like competency both at work and at home. Korean women work the long-est hours in the world, are often brushed aside when promotions come up and tend to be the first to get sacked in times of restructuring.
The solution to tackling the declining birth rate should be creating an environment where women can devote themselves to their work and lives at home with less pressure. The nation's average 12 daily working hours — the world's highest — should be shortened. Korean women must be given the choice to take more time off when their children are small. More flexibility in working hours is also necessary.
The problem is that, even though the govern-ment has mapped out a blueprint for resolving the record-low birth rate and quickly-aging so-ciety since last year, many companies are ignor-ing it. Government policies are of no use if they aren't applied. This means more companies need to follow the example set by Samsung Electron-ics, which has established a computer network system so that more employees can work at home. It also allows staff with children younger than 12 to take up to a year off. KT also runs a work-from-home system, and Korea Lilly has been operating a similar system since 2005.
But cases like these are far and few between. According to the Korea Women's Development Institute, only 20 percent of Korean companies employ flexible working hours, while roughly half offer extended maternity or childcare breaks. To make matters worse, very few employees make use of such services even when they are theoretically available, either due to peer pres-sure, fear of being discriminated against or some other reason.
In advanced societies, it has been proven that happiness at home and in the office often leads to a better performance at work. Employees' de-votion to their work and productivity tends to rise if their companies take an interest in their family life. Companies must revamp their evalu-ation system so that employees are not discour-aged from taking time off to care for their fami-lies, because if a solution to the low birth rate is not found, the country has no future.