UPDATE : 2017.6.1 목 17:08

[Vol. 77] Already OECD Lowest in Birthrate, What Can Government Do?

김유진 기자l승인2017.05.31l수정2017.05.26 17:06

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The average birthrate in Korea is the lowest among all OECD countries, as it is estimated to be 1.23 in 2015. To solve the problem of the low birthrate in the nation, the Korean government has poured trillions of won into promoting an increase in births for more than ten years. Furthermore, the government has made various policies to encourage childbirth, but the effect is insignificant. As giving birth is one’s own choice and freedom, the people with no babies are not to be blamed for the low birthrate. Instead, the role of government policies in encouraging childbirth is becoming increasingly important. Including Korea, many countries have responded to the global low birthrate issue by implementing various policies, some of which have brought meaningful results. Meanwhile, the Korean government has announced some controversial policies.

Recently, there were two birth promotion policies that have become an issue all over the country. The first contentious issue involved points made in a report made by senior researcher Won Jong-uk at the Korea Institute of Health and Social Affairs in a forum which dealt with the low birthrate problem. His report stated that people who are involved in the recruitment process, even if they obtained certification; took time off from the university; or had a training session, which delays marriage and childbirth, should be put at a disadvantage in society. There was also a suggestion that our society needs to develop some sort of cultural identity to encourage highly educated women to choose a spouse who is less educated or has less income. The report had disputed that the national organization shifted responsibility to the women who tend not to marry or who marry late. Another issue was the map made by the ministry of government. On the map, the population distribution of fertile women aged between 20 and 44 was ranked according to 243 local governments nationwide. Citizens were shocked by this map, which divided female citizens into women who can or can’t get pregnant. Even worse, the purpose of the chart was to make a competition among local governments and selectively support them. A lot of citizens were disappointed by the fact that the central government shifted the responsibility of the low birthrate to local governments.

In fact, the Korean government is working hard to encourage childbirth. There are many policies implemented, for good reason, which have simply failed to succeed. At the same time, there are some favorable policies abroad that encourage childbirth despite the fact that they are similar to the ones from Korea. Then, what is wrong with our government policies? Experts say the answer could be found by comparing the success found in foreign policies with our domestic policies with a financial and time perspective.

Korea’s financial support system for childbirth is, for the most part, well organized, but the problem is that the federal government does not take responsibility for financial support and passes the issue onto local governments. France has a robust and integrated policy implementation at the national level. A financial assistance system for childbirth in France has been integrated into one unified system called PAJE, and French citizens can get grants from the nation. On the contrary, in Korea, local autonomous governments are in charge of grant payment, so it varies a lot depending on the financial condition of local governments. For example, in Dongducheon-si, Gyeonggi, contributions of up to five million won are paid for, depending on the disability grade of the newborn baby. However, for citizens living in Yeonje-gu, Busan, grants are paid from 1.7 million won for the second child to two million won for the third child. There is, not only an issue with the grant system but the overall system can’t work properly unless the central government takes the lead with a powerful unified system.

In the viewpoint of timely support, Korea's policies are required to be improved, compared to other countries. The Korean government assures only a year of parental leave, while France guarantees a maximum of 156 weeks of leave. In addition, policies from countries with higher birth rates reflect the gender equality issue, by emphasizing the role of the father. The Swedish government offers a total 480 days of parental leave for each couple, which necessarily includes 60 days of paternity leave for fathers, while the Korean government guarantees just three to five days of paternity leave for fathers. The Korean government’s policies have been criticized for not being well organized in regards to parents missing work for kids' school events or sickness. Meanwhile, the Swedish government created one good national policy aimed at this solving this problem. It offers 120 days of leave to the parents for a child's sickness each year if the child is fewer than 12. Parents don't need to submit a doctor's opinion, nor is their regular vacation lessoned.

No matter how organized the policies are, they can’t be effective if social awareness and behaviors are not improved. Therefore, change in regards to the understanding of the childbirth and marriage issue is imperative to overcome the low birthrate problem. For instance, unwed births should be considered. According to an OECD survey in 2014, the average proportion of unwed births for 42 countries was 39.9 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of unwed birth in Korea was about 1.9 percent, last place among the entire 42 OECD countries. Countries that had high fertility rates, like France, Norway and Iceland, had high numbers of unwed birth rates as well. Sweden and France, which have restored the average fertility rate to two children, do not consider marital status for childbirth, childcare, or education. However, in Korea, if the couple refuses to register their marriage as a legal procedure, the government does not provide support. The changing birth encouragement policies of the world reflect the diversity of families these days, such as single parents and unwed families. Policies to encourage childbirth seem to parallel the various types of family structures of the modern world.

President Moon, of the new government regime, vowed to create new birth and nurturing policies, saying “Rearing a child is the responsibility of the nation.” To hear more babies crying in Korea and to lessen the worry of citizens, it seems important for the new government to make some decisive progress to childbirth policies.


김유진 기자  yujinsm0516@naver.com
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