Gov’t tackles low birthrate by trying to play Cupid

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Gov’t tackles low birthrate by trying to play Cupid

While China’s decision to let couples have two kids grabbed headlines around the world, Korea has been doing some revolutionary thinking of its own on how to make more babies.

With a rapidly aging population and the third-lowest fertility rate in the world, officials in Seoul have come up with 200 pages of proposals that include a suggestion for local authorities to play Cupid by arranging matchmaking gatherings for singles.

Similar policies in Japan have yet to make a dent in its population decline and the fact they are being considered at all underscore the problems in East Asia as its economies mature.

Other options being floated in Korea range from giving young couples priority for public housing, state-backed campaigns to encourage marriage and more support for people seeking fertility treatment.

“The low birthrate could become a national catastrophe unless the government really acknowledges the significance of the issue,” said Kang Hye-ryun, a professor of business administration at Ewha Womans University.

The government is taking feedback this month before the release in December of a five-year plan to raise the birthrate and combat aging. Meanwhile, in China on Tuesday, the State Council Information Office will hold a briefing on implementing its new two-child policy.

Korea’s fertility rate was 1.2 in 2013, the third-lowest in the world after Hong Kong and Macau, according to the World Bank. That’s despite the government spending 81.2 trillion won ($70 billion) since 2006 to address the problem, ruling party lawmaker Shim Jae-chul said last month.

Unless there is improvement in the birthrate, annual growth in Asia’s fourth-largest economy will begin to fall, and by the 2050s it may be as low as 1 percent, according to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

The government wants to raise the average number of babies a woman has to 1.5 by 2020 and to 2.1 by 2045.

“Raising the birthrate is especially hard in Korea because of a corporate culture that’s unfavorable to a work-life balance,’’ said Lee Jong-wha, a Seoul-based professor of economics at Korea University and former chief economist at the Asian Development Bank.

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