My dear friend Karen sent me an article recently about the declining population in Korea. There is a push for Koreans to have MORE babies, unlike China who enforces a one-child per family standard with fines if broken. Korea wants their population to pop them out faster and in greater numbers because of their declining numbers. It is an issue Japan is also dealing with with great fear. The fear is that the economy will plummit if the majority of the population has to be supported rather than working toward furthering the ever-increasingly competitive global economy.
But it is expensive to have children in Korea as it probably is in Japan. Education (especially for English lessons) is extravegent. And men are given preference over married women or women with children. It is acceptable in an interview to be asked if a woman is married because if she is, she is likely to have children soon, and therefore shouldn't be hired. There are two articles here addressing this issue. The first talks about the delining population and why. The second article talks about urging families to have more children with government incentives, and how this push might in fact make the females rise to an equal standing be pushed even further back.
#1 Korean Times
The number of childbirths here slid to a new low last year, amid growing concerns of a rapidly aging population.
The national birthrate fell to an all-time low, with one Korean woman expected to give birth to only one child through her life.
There were 438,000 births last year, 38,000 fewer than the 2004, the National Statistical Office (NSO) said in a preliminary report. It is the lowest level since 1970 when the NSO began tracking the data. In 1970 there were 100.7 million newborns, but this dropped below 500,000 for the first time in 2002. The figure has been sliding since then. The birthrate, or the average number of babies born to a woman age between 15 and 49, also hit a new low at 1.08, sliding from 1.16 in 2004. The figure shrank to less than a quarter of the 1970 rate, when one Korean woman was expected to bear, on average, 4.53 children throughout her life. Korea's birthrate was already the lowest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in 2004. Korea's figure of 1.16 was even lower than that of Japan at 1.29, a long-time synonym for low birthrates. The rate stood at 1.71 in Sweden, 1.73 in Britain, 1.89 in France and 2.04 in the United States. Also, the number of births to mothers aged 30 and over exceeded that of mothers in 20s for the first time, with 51.6 percent of maternities being among those aged 30 or more. ``Delivery is delayed as more women participate in economic activities and get higher education, on top of marrying at older age,'' said Park Kyung-ae, official at the statistical service. Ten years ago, only 25.6 percent of babies were born to women aged 30 or over. The crude birth rate, or the number of children born per 1,000 people, recorded 9 infants, down from 9.8 in 2004. The figure was 31.2 in 1970. Korea's decreasing birthrate reflects an unstable job market, difficulties juggling with work and home duties, and increased financial burdens in raising children. A Korea Institute of Health and Society poll showed 49.9 percent of working mothers have had to give up work after having their first child. It also revealed Korean families with two children spend more than half of their income, on average, on their children's education. ``If the birthrate remains at the current level, Korea's population may fall below 40 million in 2050,'' said Kim Yong-hyun, director of the Ministry of Health and Welfare in charge of setting measures against low birthrate and aging society. ``Korea may become an aged society earlier than expected.'' Analysts have anticipated that it will take only 18 years for Korea to become an aged society, where people aged 65 and over account for more than 14 percent of the population, while it would take 72 years for the U.S. and 24 years for Japan. ``Korea's birthrate is among the lowest in the world according to statistics by the United Nations,'' Kim said. He expected the birthrate gap between Korea and other developed countries to widen, as the birthrate is on the rise since 2001 in most other developed countries. The Ministry of Health and Welfare said they will announce a pan-governmental plan to cope with the low birthrate next week, which would focus on supporting childcare and establishing social programs where women can pursue both career and parenting. email@example.com
In Seoul, the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Family Affairs has now explored a new tactic to boost South Korea's population growth: turning out the lights. At 7 PM today, and once a month subsequently, the lights in the government building will be turned out.
Generous gift vouchers are on offer for officials who have more than one child, and the department organises social gatherings in the hope of fostering love amongst its bureaucrats.
But critics say what is really needed is widescale reform to tackle the burdensome cost of childcare and education that puts many young people off starting a family.
The complaint of the burdensome cost of childcare and education is highly relevant when examining who comprises the South Korean workforce. Overall, in 2005, Korean women represented 42% of the workforce. But a glance at 2001 numbers reveals that in 2001, 90% of South Korean college-educated men entered the workforce, compared to just 54% of college-educated women. This suggests that, unsurprisingly, jobs that are lesser-paid or so-called "unskilled" remain roles filled by women.Ordering citizens to "make babies" is already heteronormative, but a troublesome aspect of the policy is that it is inevitably targeted toward men. When a workforce is more male, asking employees to procreate reinforces the role of men in Korean homes as decisionmakers about both finances and reproductive health.
At The Grand Narrative, graphs representing Korean women's employment by age bracket indicate Korean women's tumultuous entry and exit from the labor pool. Or, as the author phrases it, "For every birth, a Korean career dies."
Does the new "lights out" policy reinforce the inevitability of higher birth rates driving more women out of the workforce? Perhaps it just indicates that it was not women, but Korean male authorities with working privilege, careers less affected by the struggles of childcare, who brainstormed the experiment.