sasint/Pixabay The South Korean statistics agency announced that the country’s total fertility rate – the average number of children born to each woman of childbearing age – was 0.81 in the country last year. (Poland approx. 1.3) The population contracted for the first time in 2021, raising concerns that this could seriously damage the economy – the 10th largest in the world – due to labor shortages and higher social spending related to an increase in the number of elderly people and a decrease in the number of taxpayers. The fertility rate is declining even though South Korea has spent $210 billion over the past 16 years to reverse the trend. The country’s president Yoon Suk-yeol recently asked policy makers to come up with solutions to curb this trend. Young people in South Korea say that, unlike their parents and grandparents, they do not feel obliged to start a family. They cite insecurity due to poor job prospects, expensive housing, gender and social inequality, low levels of social mobility and the huge cost of raising children in a highly competitive society. Women also complain about the patriarchal culture there, which forces them to perform most childcare duties. At the same time, they feel discriminated against at work. “In short, people think that our country is not an easy place to live,” said Lee So-Young, a population policy expert at the Korea Institute of Health and Social Affairs. “They believe their children can’t have a better life than them, so they wonder why they should bother having them,” she adds. Koreans who don’t get into good schools and don’t get decent jobs feel “rejected” and “can’t be happy” even if they start a family and have children because South Korea lacks advanced social safety nets, Choi Yoon points out Kyung, an expert at the Institute of Child Welfare and Education. In his opinion, South Korea failed to implement adequate social programs during its rapid economic growth in the 1960-80s. There are no official figures on how many South Koreans have chosen not to marry or have children. Figures from the national statistics agency show that around 193,000 marriages took place in South Korea last year, down from 430,000 in 1996. The agency’s figures also show that around 260,600 children were born in South Korea last year – compared to 691,200 in 1996 and a peak in 1971, when one million were born. The latest numbers were the lowest since the statistical agency began collecting such data in 1970. Until the mid-1990s, South Korea maintained a birth control program that was initially intended to slow down the post-war demographic explosion. Contraceptive pills and condoms were distributed free of charge in public medical centers in the country. Exemptions from military service were also offered to men who had had a vasectomy. Associated Press/KR
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