Prime minister pushes for better birthrate policy

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Prime minister pushes for better birthrate policy

The government must push for a comprehensive fertility policy with “extreme determination” as Korea’s birthrate in the first half of this year fell to lowest level in over a decade, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said Monday.

“In Statistics Korea’s recent report, the birthrate and number of marriages between January and May falls below that of the level in 2005, which had been the lowest record to date,” said Hwang in a meeting in his office. “Society’s concern over the fertility issue is growing.”

There were 182,400 births and 119,700 marriages during January and May of this year, according to Statistics Korea.

Both figures are down from 2005, when there were 189,470 births and 126,628 marriages during the same period.

Korea hit a record low fertility rate of 1.05 in 2005 with a total of 435,031 births that year.

In May, a total of 34,400 babies were born, down 5.8 percent compared to the previous year - an all-time low for that month, according to Statistics Korea.

At this rate, the birthrate for Korea is expected to fall to its lowest level ever this year.

“If such trends continue and we face a demographic cliff, then our society’s healthy progress and the happiness of the people will be severely threatened,” said Hwang. “The government will create a fertility plan with extreme determination in order to overcome this problem and enable young people to marry and give birth without trouble.”

He added that the Ministry of Health and Welfare and related agencies, along with experts, singles and newlyweds, would be consulted in order to improve its basic fertility plan.

Korea is suffering from one of the lowest fertility rates among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, with 1.24 births per woman over her lifetime. Paired with a rapidly aging population and rising marriage ages, the government has struggled to raise its birthrate over the past decade.

After reeling from the shock of hitting its lowest fertility rate in 2005, the government launched its three-part basic plan the following year in order to raise the birthrate to the OECD average of 1.6.

The first part of the plan lasted from 2006 to 2010, the second part from 2011 from 2015 and the third part runs through 2020.

At the end of last year, the government announced it will allocate more than 197.5 trillion won ($178 billion) over the next five years toward bolstering the country’s birthrate. President Park Geun-hye in December pointed to the housing problem and high youth unemployment as two factors why couples are delaying getting married.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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