On birth rewards

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On birth rewards

Cheongyang County in South Chungcheong is offering rewards of 20 million won ($17,850) for new births as a means to tackle a shrinking population. The county will pay 3 million won for a third child, 10 million won for a fourth and 20 million won for a fifth. That’s the highest level in Korea. The county has raised the ceiling as local governments vie to boost their populations through rewards for fertile couples. Goesan County in North Chungcheong has offered 10 million won for the birth of a third child, and Wando County in South Jeolla is offering 14 million won for a seventh child.

Whether such rewards actually convince families to have more children remains questionable. The government has spent 54 trillion won since 2003 to promote births in a rapidly aging society. But the birth rate has hardly improved over the last decade: to 1.187 in 2013 from 1.180 in 2003. Despite the central government’s hefty financial support for local governments to raise their birth rates, it failed to produce tangible results.

There are two approaches to tackling the conundrum of low birth rates, which jeopardize the country’s future along with rapid aging of the population. One is a direct policy aimed at promoting births, and the other is an indirect policy to change and develop overall human resources because no promotions will work in a society that is more inclined to smaller families. Paying rewards is, of course, the easiest and most direct policy to promote births. But there is a growing consensus that the money would be better invested in promoting marriages or supporting families who have difficulties having babies through natural means.

Local governments believe their rewards systems can convince residents of other regions to start a family in their jurisdictions. The 20 million won reward also would be an idea to attract new residents to rural areas, where populations have been decreasing over the last five decades.

Instead, our local governments should try to compete with others by making their own areas more livable for homes and businesses instead of resorting to gimmicks as in the past. They must try to come up with more productive and creative ways to spend their budget and boost local populations through structural reforms.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 10, Page 30

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