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The Peninsula

Fragmented Public Policy Response to Low Fertility

Published December 8, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • Survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that Korea’s fertility rate was 0.92 in 2019, lowest among member countries.
  • Data from September 2021 revealed that the birth rate dropped 6.7% compared to the same time last year.
  • Although the South Korean government has offered cash incentives for parents, the policy has been unsuccessful in encouraging greater births.

Implications: The Korean government takes a fragmented approach to addressing social issues. Case in point, public policy response to falling fertility rate focuses on providing more monetary or service support for parents. But these efforts are not supported by broader changes to societal headwinds to family planning, including work-life balancehigh cost of housinghigh cost of education, or the gap in gender pay that diminishes total household income. This impasse in policymaking is partly a reflection of the government’s continuing outlook that there are two challenges with mutually-exclusive solutions: fertility and maximizing labor force participation.

Context: According to the OECD, South Koreans work the third-longest compared to peers in member countries. While a contributor to Korea’s fertility decline, this too is an incomplete picture as longer work hours are not consistently correlated with lower fertility rates across OECD member countries. For instance, Mexicans work even longer than Koreans but the fertility rate in the country was approximately 2.1 in 2019. This shows that multiple factors contribute to this challenge and a whole-of-society approach should be considered.

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.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Janet Hong, Yubin Huh, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of GiulioBig

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