More babies, more happinessPopulation is a major factor in national competitiveness, and a country’s strategy for the future rests on its birth rate. A nation can have a prosperous future only when it maintains an optimum level of population. However, our birth rate again dropped last year to 1.18 children per woman - nearly a year after Korea popped the champagne cork for ending its pitiful status as a country with an ultra-low birth rate (below 1.30) in 2012. Having a very low birth rate coupled with the fast aging of our society had rung sharp alarm bells over our country’s future sustainability. If the trend continues, Korea will turn into one of the most ultra-elderly societies by 2026.
The government must press ahead with policies to raise the birth rate. Many countries are also struggling to raise their birth rates. Japan has a special minister tackling its situation, and China declared an end to its decades-old one-child policy. Western Europe’s remarkable success in boosting its birth rate owes a lot to government policies. It took 27 years for Denmark to lift its birth rate by 0.5. Sweden spent 11 years to achieve the most envied success through powerful prescriptions like the introduction of mandatory maternity and paternity leaves.
In Korea, too, companies are increasingly making an effort to improve the child-raising environment for working parents by offering childcare allowances. But in Korea, arguably one of the most stressful societies on the globe, government policies aimed at raising the birth rate inevitably have limits. According to research by the Hyundai Research Institute, the economic factor was the biggest impediment to giving birth, with 44.3 percent citing the financial burden as the biggest reason for not having babies and 30.4 percent singling out unstable employment as a stumbling block. The overall social environment - such as affordable educations and stable jobs - needs to be enhanced.
At the same time, we must pay attention to the cases of Denmark, Australia, Sweden and France. All of those countries showed quite high subjective happiness indices, which makes people more likely to want to raise a family. Korea has to raise its happiness.
As our traditional family structure undergoes transformations, as an increasing number of people shun marriage or choose divorce, Koreans must embrace new types of families. The government must work on national education to rid people of their prejudices and discrimination against, for example, out-of-wedlock children. Our national competitiveness depends on it.