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The Peninsula

Does Korea’s Plan to Address the Demographic Crisis Consider Women?

Published January 6, 2021
Author: Korea View
Category: South Korea

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • The Presidential Committee on Aging Society and Population Policy announced its fourth plan to combat low birthrate and aging population, committing to spending approximately 178 billion won by 2025.
  • The measures include cash allowances and other perks to expectant parents and parents with infants.
  • South Korea’s total fertility rate dwells at 0.92, lowest of all OECD countries.

Implications: The government’s pursuit of a higher birth rate is misaligned with the broader public desire for conditions that expand women’s family planning choices. While the subsidies can be helpful in the short-term, public policy experts point out that financial assistance fails to address underlying problems that affect women’s ability to balance their career aspirations and childcare. According to Statistics Korea in 2018, an overwhelming percentage of people on parental leave were still female and the labor participation rate for women decreased as the number of their children went up. The data suggests that reversing the fertility rate may be more dependent on making sure that childbirth and career development are not mutually exclusive options for South Korean women.

Context: First initiated in 2006, the government’s plan to tackle the ongoing demographic crisis is updated every 5 years. Despite government focus on the issue, the total fertility rate, which refers to the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime, dropped from 0.98 to 0.92 in 2019. The economic downturn created by COVID-19 and soaring housing prices in Seoul created more hardships for young people. In this environment, South Koreans are reportedly refraining from dating and marriage more generally.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo and Chris Lee.

Picture from the flickr account of GiulioBig

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