SEOUL, July 20, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – How bad it the impending demographic crash facing South Korea? The Catholic Church and Planned Parenthood agree this generation must have more babies.
A new study has found that increasing the national birthrate is necessary for the country’s economic, military, and geopolitical survival.
The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs published a paper on World Population Day stating: “We need to bring the birth rate to at least 1.8 percent within the next decade, to keep the population at 50 million. [That is] The only way we will be able to maintain our social, economic, and military power. Otherwise, we will disappear.”
In many ways, Seoul is a victim of its own success. The government encouraged families to have only one child in the 1960s, when the nation’s total fertility rate (TFR) hit 6.1 children per family. Its TFR is currently 1.2, well below replacement level.
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Banking titan HSBC estimates South Korea’s population will shrink by one-third between now and 2050. The remaining workforce will continue to gray. Fully 14 percent of its population will be over the age of 65 by 2018, sooner than Japan. Within another eight years, South Korea will become a “super-aged society,” with 20 percent of its citizens 65 or older.
In the short term, this will increase the value of the nation’s currency, the won, as an aging workforce sees its salaries make their final push for the top of the pay scale.
However, numerous reports indicate that long-term salary and benefits increases, an increased pension load, and a dearth of workers in the manufacturing sector will set the nation back from the path of economic growth its policies have forged—in turn sending the declining nation on a path of decreased international and military importance. Already 40 percent of workers at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, the third largest manufacturer of ships, are at least 50.
The Korea Development Institute estimates the nation’s economic growth rate will drop from 4 percent to 1.7 percent over 25 years.
The careening fertility curve is so alarming that Choi Seon-jeong, president of the Planned Population Federation of Korea—the nation’s Planned Parenthood affiliate—wrote in the JoongAng Daily, “Religious groups need to advocate respect for life, abortion prevention, and positive values on marriage and parenthood, encouraging the younger generation to form families and have children.”
In 2006, the government allotted 40 trillion won ($34.1 billion) to increase the nation’s birthrate. The program has been a modest success, with 25,000 more babies born in 2010 than the previous year. The government is doubling the program, which will give new parents tax breaks and ask companies to build on-site daycare centers.
They may face an uphill battle. Observers say the pattern of childless relationships and couple-focused life has become ingrained in the southern half of the peninsula. “I just want to live happily with my husband without having to worry about kids or making sacrifices for them,” said a woman who was only identified by her last name, Kim.
Lee said there is “no consensus” for an open borders policy to import foreign workers. The nation’s industrial sector is looking at increasing the female workforce and preparing for a glut of older workers.
The nation’s labor market reflects its belief that women should not work outside the home. Lee Sung-sik, a senior labor researcher at business lobby the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said 60 percent of women leave the workforce when they get married, and nearly all the rest quit when they have their first child.
A woman surnamed Shin revealed that many women are afraid to take maternity leave. “I want to work for a long time, but what kind of company will like and promote pregnant employees, who will work less than others?” she asked. “Thinking about all the expected disadvantages to married or pregnant women, it’s hard to have kids.”
Firms are also adjusting their policies to keep workers on the job longer. POSCO, the third largest steelmaker in the world, introduced a “salary peak” at age 52 but extended the retirement age to 58, with employees eligible for “re-employment.”
South Korea is far from the only nation in the area facing similar pressures.
Professor Hiroshi Yoshida of the Graduate School of Economics and Management in Tohoku University in Sendai has estimated that in 1,000 years Japan will have no children beneath the age of 15.