Steps taken so far have failed. Ministers from the two countries met today in Seoul to discuss the issue. An aging population weighs heavily on the economy, shrinking the labour force and driving up welfare costs. Economics is the main issue.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – Japan and South Korea plan to work together to tackle their low birthrates in order to breathe new life in two of Asia’s largest economies.
South Korean Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo and his Japanese counterpart, Masaji Matsuyama, made the announcement in Seoul where they met to discuss the pressing issue.
According to Fr Maurizio Giorgianni, an Oblate Missionary of Mary Immaculate in South Korea, economic conditions push couples to have fewer children.
Last year, Japan had a record-low of 970,000 newborns, whilst figures for its South Korean neighbour are not much better – an all-time low of 406,000 children with the fertility rate reaching 1.17, the lowest in seven years.
For experts, a low birthrate will reduce the workforce and drive up welfare costs. This will undermine the growth potential of the economy as a whole.
According to Fr Giorgianni, the economic cost of raising children is one of the factors that affect the decision to have a child, especially in relation to education.
This is an important issue in South Korea’s highly competitive society, where the costs of education are very high and universities are private and expensive.
"Given how society is structured, there is a lot of competition, and the issue becomes 'My child must be competitive, I have to send him to a good university,' which means a lot of expenses,” said Fr Giorgianni.
“To study in Seoul or in a distant city is socially relevant. Those who study at a school or university in the city get a better education, and will have more chances to find work, and become integrated in society. However, universities are expensive. One year at Seoul University can cost tens of millions of won (one million won equals US$ 885). Couples have to think hard about this: They can do it for one child, but two?"
In addition, married life has changed. "Now, husband and wife are very independent, and lead their own independent life. When one has a child, certain things have to change. Nowadays, people have become very self-centred, concerned about themselves."
The South Korean government has recently announced a series of plans, including child subsidies and expanded maternity leave, to encourage people to have more babies, but most of them seem to have fallen short of expectations.