S. Korea gov’t seeks to boost birthrate by creating jobs, reduce health costs

October 20, 2015

By Jung Min-ho

A government program announced Sunday is aimed at creating social conditions to boost the nation’s birthrate from the current 1.2 per woman, the world’s lowest level, to 1.5 by 2020.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a package of measures to help young people overcome the two main causes of the problem — a lack of stable jobs and high house prices.

The ministry will create more than 40,000 jobs in the public sector by 2017. It will also give companies a tax incentive of 5 million won ($4,500) per every young person they hire as a regular worker.

According to Statistics Korea, the unemployment rate among people aged 15 to 29, was 7.9 percent in September. The number is the lowest level this year. However, the ministry said it recognizes that many of the jobs are precarious.

The ministry will make it easier for soon-to-be married couples to rent a house on a long-term basis, given that many delay marriage until they obtain a stable place to live.

To encourage married couples to have more babies, the ministry will reduce healthcare costs for pregnancy and delivery such as ultrasound tests. It will also financially support those who get medical help for infertility problems.

Yet, many remain skeptical about whether the ministry will be able to keep its promises. In fact, the government’s project of creating more stable jobs has not produced satisfactory results in years. Experts say the problem of low birthrate will continue to linger until the government implements more drastic measures.

The biggest issue regarding low birthrate may lie in the changing perception about marriage.

According to a survey done by the Hyundai Economic Research Institute earlier this year, four out of 10 women aged from 20 to 30 believe marriage is an option rather than an obligation.

According to Statistics Korea, the number of marriages in Korea in 2014 totaled 305,500, a decrease by 17,300 from 2013. Today, most men and women seem to marry in their early 30s.

The average age when males marry is 32.4, and age 29.8 for females. If compared to statistics from 10 years ago, the age at which men marry has been delayed for 1.9 years while women marry 2.3 years later.

Experts warn that the low birthrate will trigger a shortage of manpower, which will in turn prompt the economy to lose growth momentum. They say the trend could plunge the country into a vicious circle of job cuts, difficulties in finding jobs and cause more people to shun marriage.