Monday, September 21, 2009

Korea Herald editorial on low-birth rate

South Korea's low birth rate has become a perennial problem, far below so-called "replacement," which allows for population stability. The Korea Herald has a good editorial on why this is a problem.

For decades we've heard about the perils of out of control population growth, and we as a species responded. There is a good chance that the population will level off at around nine billion in the middle of this century.

The problem, then, is that demographers and economists haven't really come up with a good model for economic stability in the face of a shrinking or stagnant population. Maybe mechanization will pick up the slack, or at least some of it, but we really don't know.

In the meantime, governments in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Italy, and elsewhere are scrambling to find ways to raise fertility (the number of live births a woman will have in her lifetime) from around 1.2 to at least 1.5, though replacement is about 2.1.

South Korea needs to make major changes, and the French model may provide a solution. But the government and corporate Korea need to go beyond encouraging mothers (and their husbands) to have babies, and make sure they allow it. There are too many obstacles (out of control education costs, demanding schedules at work that make it difficult for both mother and father to get home, cramped and expensive housing, etc.) that make it difficult for people to get married in the first place and then have a child and then a second child. Even if they want to.

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