Improve quality of life firstThe government announced that Korea’s population decreased last year for the first time since it collected such data. Coupled with concerns about a possible extinction of rural populations, the country’s woes are deepening. The government must accept the seriousness of the situation and come up with effective measures to stop it.
According to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety on Sunday, the Korean population shrank to 51,829,023 as of Dec. 31, a 0.004 percent reduction from the previous year. The growth rate of our population, which was 1.49 percent in 2010, has continued slowing and began declining last year.
The drop resulted from more deaths than births in 2020. The number of newborns last year — 275,815 — was lower than the threshold of 300,000 for the first time. That’s a whopping 10.65 percent decrease from 2019. Prof. Lee Sam-sik, director of the Aging Society Research Institute at Hanyang University, said that Korea “regrettably followed in the footsteps of Japan, the first country that experienced a natural reduction of population in the warless period.”
The only way to stop a natural decrease in population is raising the birthrate. But after the government spent 185 trillion won ($170 billion), Korea’s fertility rate in 2019 remained at 0.92, the lowest among OECD member countries. In December, the Moon Jae-in administration decided to offer 6 million won to married couples if they take three months of leave each to care for their children. But the effect is uncertain.
In the longer perspective, the government must fundamentally change our social environment and structure that discourages couples from having babies because of concerns about housing and other factors. At the same time, it must help expand the concept of family in a revolutionary way to accommodate various types of family. Another concern is a rapid increase in single households. The number of such households surpassed 9 million last year — 39.2 percent of all households — for the first time.
Most of Korea’s single households can be found among the young generation and old population. Alarmingly, the share of single households among senior citizens nearly doubles that of Japan, which means measures to lessen loneliness are urgently needed. The decreasing population leads to a critical lack of economic vitality and potential growth. Given the ineffectiveness to turn the tide around in the past, the government must devise effective policies to improve the quality of life first.