Reflect the demographic shiftAmerican sociologist Nicholas Christakis predicted that the future of human civilization will be shaped by demographic changes. He explained Western peoples’ four transition stages over the past centuries. In the first stage, life had been short with high birth and death rates. During the second stage, the death rate began to decline thanks to improvements in food supply and health care. In the third stage, birth rates dropped for the first time in human history. During the fourth stage - the present - birth and death rates are nearly balanced, but both are relatively low. The four-part transition that took centuries in Western societies panned out in just four decades in Korea. We found ourselves in a transitional period without any warning.
The JoongAng Ilbo recently conducted an investigation to show the Korean lifestyle in 2020 amid a low birth rate. Single-person households will account for 30 percent. In a poll, half of the respondents in their 60s said couples should have children. Yet only 14 percent in their 20s considered childbirth a must. The change in lifestyles and perspectives on family planning must be acknowledged to come up with adequate and practical public policies.
Korea has failed in demographic policy. In the mid-1980s, when the birth rate sharply dropped, the government should have stopped its birth control campaign. It only encouraged child birth after the fertility rate plunged further in the mid 1990s. In 2006, it launched the “From Cradle to Grave” plan to cope with a low birth rate and an aging society. By next year, the government will have invested 50 trillion won ($48.1 billion) in promoting childbirth and child care support. Still, the campaign has produced little result. The birth rate over the past decade has more or less stayed the same.
Demographic trends are hard to reverse. We cannot spend a budget tantamount to four percent of gross domestic product every year to encourage a paltry increase in the birth rate. Current policies treat a low birth rate as doom. Few think of using the momentum to improve living standards, raise labor productivity and make our environment cleaner. Instead of trying to raise the birth rate, the resources and attention should be given to helping poor children, raise productivity and encourage emigration.
Sweden builds public houses customized for single people. Japan has security services for old people living alone. Other countries that have experienced a low birth rate have changed policies to adapt to reality instead of fighting the trend. We too must draw up macro-social, economic and political policies in response to our demographic features.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 24, Page 34