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Why Experts Say South Korea Shouldn’t Just Throw Cash at Its Low Birth Rate Problem


A social employee cares for a child on the Jusarang Neighborhood Church in southern Seoul on Might 24, 2017. Credit score – Jung Yeon-je—AFP/Getty Pictures

South Korea—the world’s poster youngster for demographic decline—has spent some $280 billion over the previous 18 years to deal with its diminishing start charge, which recently dropped to a new record-low of 0.72 infants per girl in a lifetime. It’s a results of a confluence of things however largely comes all the way down to younger Koreans’ frustrations with high costs of living and low quality of life. However whereas money handouts have been the federal government’s go-to strategy, specialists say that simply throwing cash on the drawback isn’t essentially the very best resolution.

Since April 2022, South Korea’s authorities has handed out vouchers worth 2 million won (round $1,500) to oldsters who produce their first youngster, with one other three million gained allotted for each further youngster. In an effort to additional subsidize the price of childbearing and childrearing, the federal government has continued to extend its finances for household money help. The month-to-month stipend mother and father obtain for a new child’s first 12 months additionally elevated in 2024 to 1,000,000 gained (round $740) from 700,000 in 2023. And since 2018, mother and father obtain a 100,000 gained ($74) handout each month for every youngster’s first a number of years. For a kid born in 2024, mother and father are anticipated to obtain—over eight years—a minimum of 29.6 million gained, or about $22,000, from the federal government.

Personal firms have joined in on the marketing campaign to spice up start charges through money incentives, with some offering thousands of dollars for workers who reproduce—incentivized themselves by tax benefits and other government support measures for such applications.

“It’s simply a lot less complicated to go to the money incentive, to make use of that coverage device,” Jisoo Hwang, affiliate professor of Economics at Seoul Nationwide College, tells TIME. “I feel for any authorities, that has been the better strategy to handle the low fertility drawback.”

However Hwang and different analysts inform TIME that whereas handouts assist, a greater strategy can be to deal with insurance policies and applications that will handle and enhance broader quality-of-life points. Such measures would carry their very own unrelated advantages in addition to not directly assist foster an atmosphere the place younger individuals really feel extra inclined to have and lift kids.

Hwang says policymakers ought to take into account redirecting funds from handouts for people to the advance of social companies that profit a bigger collective of individuals. “It could be really extra environment friendly to, as a substitute of giving out small increments of money subsidies, if we are able to really spend money on public schooling or public childcare, and to reinforce the standard and accessibility of that all through the nation,” she tells TIME.

To make sure, Seoul is making some strikes alongside these strains to attempt to handle quality-of-life issues. Final week, the federal government eased the burden on new parents seeking housing, with households which have kids aged 2 or youthful made eligible to particular housing subscription methods by which the federal government allocates presale residences by a raffle—a system that’s thought of probably the most cost-friendly strategy to buy a home in South Korea, given high costs of real estate, especially in metropolitan areas. And earlier this 12 months, President Yoon Suk-yeol introduced that publicly funded after-school care programs for children can be expanded nationwide.

Additionally final week, Yoon oversaw the launch of a high-speed prepare that would scale back journey time between Seoul and its outskirts to lower than 1 / 4 of the unique commute. Land Minister Park Sang-woo told Reuters that the brand new prepare was considered as one other device which may enhance start charges: “With two-hour commute on the best way dwelling, for instance, how can anybody find time for infants? The thought is to present individuals extra leisure time after work.”

Hwang says the Yoon authorities’s non-cash-based approaches to tackling cost-of-living and quality-of-life points for households point out that it’s taking the matter of declining start charges critically. However there’s a restrict to how a lot any administration will prioritize long-term options—extra basic modifications to labor markets and schooling methods—whose outcomes gained’t doubtless be seen till they’re out of energy.

On the identical time, nevertheless, policymakers neeed to be cautious of introducing non-cash options that might create new issues, says Stuart Gietel-Basten, a demographer and professor of social science and public coverage at Hong Kong College of Science and Know-how. For instance, he says, if the brand new high-speed prepare makes commuting simpler, firms may anticipate employees to do extra work in a tradition the place lengthy hours on the job are already pervasive.

There’s additionally doubtless a restrict to how a lot any of those applications can really obtain. Demographers have beforehand warned that once fertility rates fall beneath a certain threshold, lifting them turns into extraordinarily tough due to self-reinforcing financial and social mechanisms. Within the case of South Korea, authorities optimistically forecast the fertility charge will proceed to say no, a minimum of for the subsequent two years earlier than a projected slight uptick in 2026 that authorities consider will development upward, albeit barely, for the subsequent decade. Yonhap reported in December that Lim Younger-il, the pinnacle of the statistics workplace’s inhabitants developments division, attributes the present yearslong decline in South Korea’s start charge, which he believes to be non permanent, to the sharp decline in marriages on the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout Asia, marriages have started to rebound.

That’s to not say that continued funding in family-supporting applications is a waste. “By enhancing entry to childcare, enhancing entry to kindergartens, maternity go away, paternity go away, and so forth and so forth, that has made individuals’s lives higher,” Gietel-Basten tells TIME. “It could not essentially have elevated fertility. Perhaps it should in time. However that’s not the [only] purpose to usher in these sorts of insurance policies.”

Contact us at letters@time.com.



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