Friday, 10 September 2010

Det Dere Birthrate

Funny thing:

I keep reading and hearing these pontifications on why the birthrate is so low in Korea.

The funny thing is, I've never seen those pontifications by government ministers and policy makers (mostly male) alongside results of surveys actually ASKING women why they don't want to have kids, or asking them, "If this happened, would you think about having more babies?" (this being things like, government funded daycares, legally binding work end-times, legal maternity leaves protected with teeth, etc.)

And the question is, is the government really that clueless about women's issues, and why on earth aren't they asking the people actually affected by their policy decisions (women, newlyweds, young families).  Another case in point: this obscenely wrong-headed attempt to improve the birth-rate by cracking down on doctors who perform abortions (covered at length and with outrage by the Metropolitician, Korea, No Place for Young Women, but about Whom Policy Is Decided by Old Men)

Cracking down on abortion to solve the low birthrate problem is like raising the downtown speed limits to fix Kangnam's rush-hour traffic gridlock.

This article is the one that set me off.  That's about it for now.

Readers: correct me if I'm wrong.  Are there surveys of Korean women's views on childbirth that are simply being disregarded?  Where can I find and read them?  Links in the comments if you know of one.


Hannah said...

Well, here's one story that just went on the wire about the govt trying to address the problem:

Gomushin Girl said...

Unless there's greater equality in the workplace and in the burden of childcare, having fewer children is completely logical for most individual women. But short of requiring all companies to provide substantial parental leave, flexible working schedules, and completely reforming Korea's educational system . . . yeah, well, we can dream.

3gyupsal said...

Maybe they (politicians) should just think about how much nicer and less crowded this place will be with less people. Sure it will be a drain on the national pension system for a while, but within one or two generations Koreans can have more space, less traffic, and more money to spend on their children. When I got here Koreans would always talk about how hard everything is because there is only 17% arable land. Well, a greater amount of that can be used to feed Korean people. With less people they can also tear a few apartments and let nature come back.

Chris said...

...or like removing all public trash cans to reduce trash on the streets...

...or closing parking lots downtown to reduce traffic congestion...

Roboseyo said...

Yeah, Chris, like that, too. Perfect examples. lol.

Where do we find these guys?

Roboseyo said...

While I totally agree with you, Gomushin Girl, and any idiot with ears can find those causes of the problem, have you ever come across a survey that provides the statistically sound breakdown of the importance of each of those reasons?

Chris said...

I want to comment on your poll for Mrs. Roboseyo... might her name be such that you could easily merge it into "yoboseyo"?

Sarah => Yobosara
Betsy => Yobetsyo
If you are Popeye-in-disguise:
Olive => Yoliveo

보람 => 여보람오,
영희 => 영희세요,
세경 => 여보세경

and if we pass on the phonetics and focus on the rhythm, I think many names would sound good prefixed with 여보


If your wife is Korea, I understand she looses her name anyway, as soon as the first child is born. She would become something like "Junior's Mom", right? I think that's kind of sad, by the way.

watongo said...

Gomushin Girl could not be more wrong! The problem is NOT in the government not dealing with these issues. Government is a cancer - whatever they touch, they spil it, be it economy, taxes, whatever. The problem is more complex - women feel more free right now, they have the right to decide, the society is getting more modern with every decade, families are not that close as they used to be even 10 or 20 years ago. I live in Europe - we used to spend lots of time together 20 years ago - now everyne is working, doing business and we see each other for Xmas and Easter. More, women do not want a husband as their life time achievement , bear children etc. SOme choose career, some prefer free relationship and so on. Do not blame government and no parental leave, educational systems etc. This would be even worse if they startedto deal with this! Just observe more conservative families all over the world, usualy poorer families - they have 2-3, or even 4 or more children! WHy? Because they live the old fashioned way - father IS a father, mother IS a mother, they have different duties, different roles in the family. Oh, I could go on for long, but I ll skip it for now. Just dont search the answer in the wrong place. Government, surveys, polls won't fix the problem, just watch France. They spend humongous amount of money for stimulating women/families and what? The ratio is barely over average. WHile 50 years ago there was not a dollar put in this stuff and women had 3 or more children...

Roboseyo said...

watongo, I'd rather Gomushin Girl respond to some of the other points you make because she knows more about many of these issues than I do; however, I'd like to suggest other reasons people in poorer countries have more children:
1. less access to birth control
2. less education about birth control
3. (my sociology teacher explained this to me) having more kids means more chance that one of your kids will grow up to be successful enough to take care of you when you're old. In countries without developed social safety nets, depending on your kids might be your only retirement plan.

And by the way, "the old fashioned way" was that everyone contributes to the family budget: it wasn't until industrialization and urbanization that the "male breadwinner for the nuclear family" model came along. Before everyone moved to the city and worked in factories, mom, dad, and all the kids, and probably even some uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents helped out on the homestead farm, or mill, or smithy.

Roboseyo said...

also: are you really saying you want to go back to the way things were fifty or sixty years ago, when having a daughter was a shame on the family, and daughters didn't go to school in some families, because "why bother teaching a girl to read? don't need to read to have babies"

3gyupsal said...

Okay, in the first post I didn't mean to imply that politicians shouldn't ask why women don't have children, or that the government shouldn't try to enact laws to make Korea more like Sweden in regards to childcare, but my point is more that low birth rates indicate the wealth of a country. Even places like Sweden with their awesome family services don't have high birthrates.

It could just that the Korea doesn't really have space for more people. Families that have to pay 11% of their income towards education expenses, and that generally pay only the interest on their mortgages (80% of families with mortgages generally don't make payments toward the principal they just pay the interest, according to a recent hani article.) probably don't want to have more than 1.19 children running around their tiny apartments.

Besides that even if there was paid family leave, and cheap child care, it wouldn't address the fact that half of all babies born in Korea eventually have to join the army, or that by the time a kid reaches high school they will have been beaten by a teacher at least once, or even the fact that most residential areas don't have sidewalks. (My wife and I are expecting and I'm rather frightened of the traffic in my neighborhood.

Roboseyo said...

3gyup: and that crowding is even in light of the large number of Koreans emigrating to other countries in Europe, North America, etc..

for reference, 3gyup is correct that most wealthy "advanced" countries are near the bottom of this "births per population" chart from, and the countries with the highest birth rates are almost all in the "developing nation" category.

Anonymous said...


...or providing free school meals to address problems in the Korean education system...

Nicole said...

Hey Roboseyo, I landed on your website through James Turnbull at <a href=">The Grand Narrative</a>. You've got an interesting blog too ^^ Looking forward to your posts. <br>
And about this one, I agree with you. If I look around here (in Germany) the majority is +40. Most of my girl friends are still studying or they chose to have a career before even thinking about having babies. Our prof encourages us to work hard instead of becoming housewives. My parents tell me to not get married and have kids at all ^^ So it's about the same situation in Korea?

chiam said...

This is all ridic. The more advanced a country becomes, the lower the birthrate. My grandfather is one of 13. My mom is one of two, and I am one of two.

Most families in Korea have one or two children. I know a few people who have three children.

Children are expensive and eat away at leisure time and freedom. People with University degrees and a modern outlook like to travel, consume for themselves, etc.

The cost of raising a child in Korea is RETARDED compared with Europe and North America, and there really isn't anything the Korean government can do about it other than ban after-school learning and deregulate the uniform tri-opoly.

I think you'd be really shocked if you looked at how few benefits there are in the United States when you have a baby. IIRC, the US doesn't even have mandatory maternity leave for new parents.

Look at legal measures for new mothers in the G20 countries and I think you'll find that Korea isn't as backward as you want to believe; it's just a lot more expensive due to social pressures.

The Seoul Searcher said...

People complain about the government being inadequate in invoking policies that can reverse the trend are missing the point. There are specific conditions that make having kids economically unfeasible in Korea. These are, low salaries, ridiculously long work hours, high housing costs, inadequate public education systems, intense competition (making the kids go to hagwon is a must, not a privelege.), and generally company's disregard for laws.

Giving money to families and instituting government daycare centers isn't the solution to the problem, it's basically a band-aid on a deep gash. The prevention is better than response.

These conditions where the wealthy are super wealthy and the middle class are really just doing enough to get by isn't at all the way to go.

I read a few weeks ago that the government decided that it takes about 1.5 million to fully meet the basic needs of a family of 4 in Korea. I'd like to see a family of 4 living in Seoul live on only that much. That's impossible unless all 4 of them live in a studio and don't ever go out to do anything that costs money.

The Seoul Searcher said...


This peninsula has plenty of space, it's just that too many people live in Seoul and there aren't any jobs anywhere else.

If they could somehow decentralize everything them perhaps you could fit everyone into a more uniform population distribution.

Becky said...

How about having husband's come home at 5 or 6 instead of 10pm or 2am depending on if it's a "team building" night. My Korean girlfriend has two little ones at home and this is a HUGE issue for them.

Anonymous said...

As for the long hours, I am wondering what would happen if Korean companies were simply forced to pay overtime... I am sure we would witness both a social revolution and a revolution in efficiency and productivity in Korea.

Anonymous said...

The following article is highly relevant to the above discussion (published today in the JoongAng Daily):

Efforts to end overwork not working

It contains some very interesting statements...

Anonymous said...

From the article in the JoongAng Daily:

"Corporate leaders, on the other hand, say it would burden enterprises with additional costs amounting to 1.4 trillion won ($1.2 billion) because they would have to pay employees a bonus to work on a holiday, otherwise they would lose output from a day’s work.

Chris can add another item to his list...