Now South Korea already has one of the world's lowest birth rates with couples having on average 1.17 children. And although the government has been spending money on policy used to try to boost the country's population for some time, new figures for this year suggest the birthrate is falling even further to its lowest ever. Asia Pacific editor Celia Hatton spoke to my colleague Oliver Conway.
Well there's lots of reasons really. I mean at the start of it, couples are delaying getting married because a lot of them are saying that they aren’t getting the jobs that would allow them to buy their own homes and many couples feel that they're sort of trapped still living with their parents, so they can't really start their own families. And women have a lot of concerns as well. Maternity leave policies in South Korea haven't really improved, particularly for women who were working at smaller and medium sized companies. If they get pregnant, they're basically pushed out of their jobs. And so many women are delaying or maybe just having one child and then quickly going back to work. And even though women actually are graduating from universities more often than men in South Korea now, men are not picking up their side of domestic household work. So women are just saying look we're overburdened. We really just don't want to have more and more children. And they're really resisting government pressure to continue having children because they say that the government isn't addressing their real concerns.
And yet the government says they're spending lots of money on this issue. Why is that not having an effect?
Well basically yeah. They have spent 17 billion dollars over the past decade. And it’s spending on things like if your third child wants to enter into day-care, you will get priority enrolment. But for many women, they're saying, “Look three children? I can’t even handle two at this point. They're paying for things like infertility treatment subsidies and baby bonuses, but still don't address those core concerns over housing and domestic work and maternity leave. So really, people are saying yeah the government's spending money, but it's not spending money on the right stuff.
And I think you need a birthrate of around 2.1 to maintain the population. What will this low birth rate in South Korea mean for the country?
Well it means really that many people are predicting that in the next 100 years or so that South Korea will just cease to exist. It will just become extinct. I mean that really is something that demographers are saying. So the population is just over 50 million now. By 2060, the population would have dipped as low as 34 million people if it continues at this rate. And really the problem is that it's an aging society, and there aren't enough tax payers coming in to fuel the system to help fund costs of having so many elderly people in this society. But South Koreans are also really hesitant to do what other countries have done, which is to allow more immigration. South Korea really is quite a conservative, quite closed society and they pride, you know, not really allowing a lot of immigrants in. And so that's really the central problem.
But briefly, you found out that many South Koreans are worried about this.
Yes. There is a theory, and this really is something that is embraced by a lot of people in South Korea that this problem will eventually go away because South Korea and North Korea will reunite. North Korea has a younger society. North Koreans can come in and sort of prop up these sort of missing jobs, these missing places in society. But demographers do say look that will only delay the problem by about five years. And then you know the entire country would eventually face the same issue.
Our Asia Pacific editor Celia Hatton has been reporting.