At the current regression of Korea’s birth rate, researchers have predicted that by 2750 Koreans may be extinct. Although this may sound far-fetched, currently Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and the lowest in the country’s history at 1.19 child per woman. This new low hasn’t taken anyone by surprise as it has been falling over the years along with many other East Asian countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
South Korea has a smaller number of young people in their 20s than those in their 60s due to the structure of its the ageing population, therefore fewer marriages and children occur naturally. There are numerous other reasons why the birth rate continues to drop, such as the lack of a child support system for working mums and forcing women to chose between their careers and motherhood. As a result, women (as well as men), have chosen to delay parenthood. Economic and social pressures also make it difficult to give a child a high quality of life, as the cost of living and education for children rises.
Although 2750 seems to be in the very distant future, the falling birth rate is one of the most pressing issues that this country faces, as Korea’s ageing population and decreasing work force could mean losing its strong position on the international stage. Korea’s Ministry of Health have previously attempted to increase birth rate using numerous questionable strategies, such as switching off the lights in the building every month on every third Wednesday at 7:30pm. This was a bid to encourage workers to go home earlier and make babies. The ministry also provided cash gift incentives for families with more than 2 children, however, bearing in mind the infinite costs of raising a child it is difficult to say how persuasive these financial tokens are.
The struggle to increase the falling birth rate has seeped into the entertainment industry as multiple televisions shows focusing on children and parenthood have been produced. Popular shows such as MBC’s Dad! Where are you going? and KBS’ Superman is Back feature celebrity fathers and their children. Both these reality shows follow the fathers and children through 2 days of being together (without the mother), and emphasise the warm relationship between parent and child. Dad! Where are you going? and Superman is Back has the top viewer rating in their time slot segments, MBC’s ‘Sunday Sunday Night’ and KBS2 TV’s ‘Happy Sunday’ respectively.
The whole family can enjoy these shows; adults who have children can relate to the joys and struggles, or even reminisce the days when their child was young, while adults who have no children can get a glimpse of what parenthood is like. The light-hearted content makes it an easy watch, while the interview segments amidst the action provide depth to the characters. It is heart warming watching the happiness and innocence of the children and the love that their parents have for them, it’s hard not to want to have children yourself.
Many children on these shows have stars, such as Choo Sarang (see title image) have become stars by earning commercial deals and national love. It seems that of one the factors for the show’s success is the repressed desire to have a family, but due to difficulties, many people feel satisfied from watching these shows living vicariously through the characters. With young married couples putting off children and instead choosing an independent working life, the appeal of these children have been used as a mascot of happiness. In a hope that viewers reconsider their decisions, these shows ease doubts and advertise the benefits of children, as well as demonstrate how the man can take an active role in raising the child, (a role traditionally carried out by women).
Every year we hear that Korea’s Birth rate has hit a new low and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping any time soon, however these new ways to bump up numbers are commendable. Legal and financial support will eventually integrate and diffuse social pressures, hopefully creating a society which encourages young parents and workers to start a family. Improving the birth rate is a very important investment that the government must make now to provide a stronger and adequate future generation.
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