Entering an age of reasonRecent demographic data point to a gloomy future of South Koreans. Newborns last year totaled 406,300. Marriages numbered 281,700, almost the same as the death toll, which was 281,000.
This year, the challenge will be whether the country can keep the number of births above 400,000 threshold and whether the number of marriages will outnumber deaths as the society faces looming danger of under-population and an overwhelming elderly population.
Experts have long warned of the imminent risk from low birth rates and an aging society. The latest data show the danger has arrived on our shores. The Korean Economic Association for the first time this year addressed the phenomenon of an aging society as the major risk to the Korean economy.
Lee Hyun-hoon, professor of Kangwon National University, cited European and North American cases where a rise of 10 percentage points in the number of people 65 years or older translated to a 3.5 percentage point cut in annual growth, arguing that this could cause an economic slowdown.
Without radical action, we will arrive at an irreversible consequence. Some suggest the next administration should create a deputy prime minister position or a government office to spearhead policy and fight demographic challenges.
The government has spent more than 100 trillion won ($87 billion) since legislating a law in 2005 to fight the low birth rate and aging society.
A special committee also has been active under the president. Yet the committee often did not even hold a single meeting in a year. Because there is no office with clear jurisdiction, policies have been unsystematically and randomly drawn up by separate government offices.
There were many ideas, but policy efficacy was low due to a lack of drive and concentration. An independent office must be created to push ahead with a strong and consistent campaign to sustain our population at an appropriate and active level. Presidential candidates must each devise an agenda on the issue.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 3, Page 34.