Many women are prioritizing their career over raising a family. They even outpace their male counterparts in some professional fields, emerging as an essential part of the nation's highly-educated and sophisticated labor force.There is one glaring problem there that a lot of policy makers don't address: Why do we make it so advantageous for (financially and socially) for people— male or female — to go to four-year schools (or at least, we make it so ostracizing if they don't)?
Reflecting women's growing role in Korean society, a larger portion of female high school students went on to universities than their male counterparts last year for the first time in history, Statistics Korea said Sunday.
It said 82.4 percent of female high-school students entered universities in 2010, higher than the 81.6 percent for males. It was the first time the ratio was in the females' favor since the statistical office began compiling data.
In 1990, only 32.4 percent of young women moved on to university, but the ratio has continued on an upward curve over the past two decades, reaching as high as 83.5 percent in 2008.
Going to a four-year university instead of a two-year college requires, on average, more than the two years' difference because of lost time spent trying to get into the four-year school (which causes delays of one or two or more years for many students). And that doesn't include the parents' wages spent on getting an edge on the entrance exam.
All this leads to downward pressures on fertility, for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that it makes raising second or later children prohibitively expensive, such that many families opt for just one (and this causes the cycle to repeat itself, because then they feel a need to invest everything in that one child getting into a top-ranked school).
But this worship of four-year schools also leads to later ages for graduation, which cuts into prime fertility ages. Despite the best planning of families to the contrary, when women get married earlier, they are in a position to have more babies; this is simple demographic math. This doesn't mean we should have people get hitched at eighteen, but when you have people getting married at thirty-one instead of twenty-eight, or twenty-nine instead of twenty-six, they produce less children, whether that's the plan or not.
The government should look for ways to encourage the hiring of two-year college graduates with good pay in meaningful work — and let's face it, they often know more about real work than their four-year counterparts — while at the same time not taking away too many opportunities for today's crop of four-year graduates. Right now, the average wage-seeker has it all backwards if you're trying to encourage a higher birth rate: when they can't find good jobs they seek more education, not less.
At the same time, we might want to find ways to boost military manpower with more career soldiers so that the mandatory conscription system can eventually be eliminated. The two-year stint (eventually to be eighteen months) forces people to put life plans on hold in a way that is detrimental to efforts to produce larger families. Furthermore, career soldiers can get married and have kids, unlike their conscripted counterparts.
It's time to think out of the box.