Tackling low birthrateNewborn children totaled 406,000 last year, 7.4 percent fewer than 438,420 in 2015. This year, the number could slip below the 400,000 threshold. The government has spent over 100 trillion won ($82 billion) promoting births over the last 11 years, but failed to increase the birthrate.
The government boasted that its policy had helped push up the total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman would potentially have — to 1.24 births now from 1.08 births in 2005 when national agenda on birth promotion was initiated. But the number of new births has been falling from 493,200 in 2007, hovering around 430,000 since 2013.
The fertility rate stayed above 1.20 births, but the number of women capable of bearing children has been reduced by 100,000 over the last decade. Decreases in new births cannot be stopped as the number of child-bearing women keeps falling.
Policies therefore should focus on ways to boost new births instead of trying to keep up the fertility rate. The government has not specifically targeted the number of annual new births it hopes to sustain, but experts suggest the threshold should be kept above 400,000.
Current promotions are focused on support for child care and infertility treatment and promoting marriage and expanded families. But to defend the minimal number of newborns, policies should separate marriage and birth support. The social stigma against single parents and children born to unwed couples must change and benefits should go to them equally.
But the government still lacks a strong will on the demographic front. A presidential advisory committee to promote birth and respond to an aging society did not hold a single meeting last year. The government under acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn decided to form a task force to address demographic challenges. Instead of making new organization, we want to see the government at work.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 11, Page 30