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Low Korean Birthrate

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Published: 7.31.2017
Level 5   |   Time: 3:20
Accent: British
Source: BBC Global News Podcast (7.30.2017)

The South Korean government is trying to solve the problem of the falling birthrate in South Korea.

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triangle Directions


  1. REVIEW the vocabulary.
  2. LISTEN to the audio.
  3. ANSWER the questions.
  4. CHECK your answers (Show Answers)

triangle Vocabulary


  • policies [n] - plans or rules made by a government
  • boost [v] - increase
  • maternity leave [n] - time off work for having a baby (for women)
  • picking up [phv] - contributing to
  • domestic household work [n] - cleaning, cooking, raising children
  • over-burdened [adj] - too much work
  • day-care [n] - a center to take of children while parents work
  • infertility [n] - inability to make babies
  • priority enrolment [n] - first in line to enroll in a school
  • core concerns [n] - most important issues or problems
  • maintain the population [exp] - keep the population at the same level
  • demographers [n] - people who study population statistics
  • dipped [v] - fell / dropped
  • aging society [n] - a society with more old people than young people
  • fuel the system [exp] - give power to the system
  • hesitant [adj] - unsure or unwilling
  • prop up [phv] - support

[n] - noun,  [v] - verb,  [phv] - phrasal verb,  [adj] - adjective,  [exp] - expression


triangle Questions


  1. What is South Korea's current birthrate?
    1.17
    1.7
    2.1

  2. What is the current trend of Korea's birthrate?
    It is starting to increase.
    It is remaining stable.
    It is continuing to decline.

  3. Why are some people delaying getting married in Korea?
    They can't find true love.
    They can't find adequate jobs.
    They can't afford to buy homes.

  4. According to the woman, what problem are women having in the workforce?
    They can't get adequate maternity leave.
    They are being paid much less then men.
    They are pressured to work on weekends.

  5. Which types of companies are generally creating this problem?
    small companies
    medium companies
    large companies

  6. What are women doing because of this problem?
    They are having only one child.
    They are delaying starting a family.
    They are returning to work quickly after having a baby.

  7. What is the current trend in university education in Korea?
    More women than men are graduating.
    The cost of education is dropping.
    There are not enough universities for the population.

  8. Why are Korean women feeling over-burdened?
    Their jobs are boring.
    They often take two or three jobs at the same time.
    Men are not helping them enough with house chores.

  9. How much has the Korean government spent on this problem in the last decade?
    7 billion dollars
    17 billion dollars
    70 billion dollars

  10. What benefits has the Korean government been spending its money on?
    giving benefits for three-child families
    providing infertility drugs
    providing affordable housing
    solving the domestic work imbalance between men and women
    providing better maternity leave

  11. What important things has the government not been trying to fix?
    giving benefits for three-child families
    providing infertility drugs
    providing affordable housing
    solving the domestic work imbalance between men and women
    providing better maternity leave

  12. What is the predicted outcome of Korea's low birthrate?
    South Korea will allow more immigration.
    South Korea will eventually disappear.
    Housing prices will drop dramatically.

  13. What other demographic problems does the woman mention?
    an aging society
    a shrinking tax base
    a possible war with North Korea

  14. What common solution to this population problem is Korea hesitant to adopt?
    increasing immigration
    improving education
    paying families for having babies

  15. How do most Koreans seem to feel about this problem?
    They seem very worried.
    They seem very angry.
    They don't seem to care.

  16. According to the woman, what do many Koreans believe will be the solution to this population problem?
    an economic improvement
    reunification with North Korea
    tax breaks for having children


triangle Discussion


  1. Are you worried about Korea's falling birthrate? Why?
  2. How many children do you want? Do you care whether it is a boy or a girl?
  3. What are some better incentives the Korean government could offer in order to encourage more people to have babies?
  4. How much maternity leave does your country give? Is it enough?
  5. How much paternity leave does your country give? Is it enough?
  6. When is it okay for mothers to go back to work? (At what age of the child?)
  7. Should pregnant women continue to work? At what month in their pregnancy should they stop working?
  8. What form of childbirth do you think is better - natural birth or C-section? Which would you prefer?
  9. In your country, who helps a new mother with the baby? For how long?
  10. Do you agree with the woman who said that most Koreans think the reunification of North and South Korea will solve this problem?

triangle Script



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.