South Korea's Demographic Challenge: Plummeting Birth Rates Pose Economic Threat

South Korea's Demographic Challenge: Plummeting Birth Rates Pose Economic Threat

Riddhi Doshi 28/02/2024
South Korea's Demographic Challenge: Plummeting Birth Rates Pose Economic Threat

South Korea is grappling with a severe demographic challenge marked by the world's lowest birth rate, a situation that poses a significant economic threat to the country.

As birth rates continue to plummet, the nation is facing the prospect of a sharply declining working-age population, adversely affecting its economy, pension system, and national security. South Korea's demographic crisis is urgent as the policy responses initiated by their government falled to address this pressing issue.

South Korea currently holds the unenviable title of having the lowest birth rate globally, with the figure dropping by another 8% in 2023 to a mere 0.72. To maintain a stable population, the replacement rate should be 2.1 children per woman. The persistent decline in birth rates raises concerns about a potential halving of the country's population by the year 2100, prompting politicians to declare it a "national emergency."

The economic repercussions of South Korea's demographic crisis are dire. Projections indicate that in 50 years, the working-age population will have halved, the pool eligible for mandatory military service will shrink significantly, and nearly half of the population will be older than 65. Such a demographic shift poses threats to the nation's economic productivity, pension funds, and overall security.

Over the past two decades, successive South Korean governmental policies have invested substantial funds, totaling 379.8 trillion KRW ($286 billion), to incentivize childbirth.

Financial incentives for couples with children include monthly handouts, subsidized housing, free taxis, and covered hospital bills and IVF treatments (limited to married couples). However, these measures have failed to reverse the declining birth rates, prompting policymakers to consider unconventional solutions. The societal and economic pressures on women in South Korea contribute significantly to the declining birth rates. Highly educated Korean women face a challenging trade-off between pursuing a career and starting a family.

Deep-rooted gender norms and workplace expectations often force women to prioritize their careers, making it difficult for them to balance work and family life. The fear of career setbacks and implicit pressure from companies discourages women from taking extended leave for childbirth.

The soaring cost of living in South Korea, particularly in the capital, Seoul, adds to the financial strain on potential parents. High housing costs and the expense of private education, which begins as early as age four, make raising a child financially burdensome. The widespread practice of enrolling children in expensive extracurricular classes contributes to the country being the most expensive in the world to raise a child.

Despite societal expectations, an increasing number of women are opting for a child-free life. Factors such as demanding work hours, gender inequality in the workplace, and the high cost of living contribute to this trend. Some women cite the competitive and stressful nature of South Korean society, emphasizing the desire to spare their children from similar pressures. The government's recognition of the structural nature of the low birth rate as a problem reflects a shifting perspective on the issue.

South Korea's demographic challenge poses significant economic threats, and policymakers are recognizing the need for more comprehensive and nuanced solutions. The government's acknowledgment of the problem as a "structural issue" suggests a willingness to address the root causes of the declining birth rates. As South Korea grapples with this national emergency, the coming years will determine the success of policy interventions in reshaping the demographic landscape and securing the country's economic future.

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Riddhi Doshi

Mental Health Expert

Riddhi Doshi trains and coaches corporate leaders, educators and parents on issues of mental health and behavior. She is an internationally certified Parenting & Behaviour Coach. In past 15+ years she has conducted 2540+ open workshops, delivered 87000+ hours of talks, 53000+ hours of counseling sessions covering 59000+ students and 62,000+ women from various fields. Parenting sessions conducted by Riddhi are housefull and recent;y she completed her 366th Parenting session. She has been a speaker and advisor at various institutions and organizations including IIM, Ahmedabad, Rotary Club, Tata Power, Larson & Toubro and The Time of India. She holds an MBA in HRD, LLM and numerous other professional certifications from prestigious international institutions including University of Cambridge, BSY University, London, City & Guilds, London, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and NMIMS, Mumbai. She has been awarded with “National Award for Cultural Activities by AVANTIKA- Delhi”, “Excellence in Wellness”, “Young Entrepreneurs Award”, “Self Made Diva Award” among various others. With a mission to “make corporate leaders, educators and parents empowered and more aware about mental health & wellness”, Riddhi regularly gives interviews on leading media platforms. She loves to interact with corporate leaders, educators and parents to discuss about women issues, child psychology and parenting challenges.

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