As birth and marriage rates continue to plummet worldwide, the South Korean government has begun playing matchmaker in an attempt to stabilize its population.
South Korea already had the world’s lowest birth rate in 2021, but in 2022 the fertility rate dropped even lower, from 0.81 to 0.78 children per woman, according to data from Statistics Korea.
In 2022 only 249,000 babies were born, 11,500 fewer than the number of babies born in 2021.
Several factors contributing to the low birth and fertility rate are economic. These include South Korea’s high costs of raising children, unaffordable housing, poor job prospects, and long working hours.
Nonetheless, other factors are more explicitly gendered and display the role that misogyny and sexism play in the low birth rate issue.
South Korea is far from alone. In 2020, the United States saw 43 states register their lowest fertility rates in at least three decades.
And the U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2034, people 65 and older will outnumber those under 18 for the first time in U.S. history. In January, China also recorded its first population decline in decades.
President Yoon Suk Yeol said in September that the government had poured more than $200 billion into programs to support new mothers in the past 16 years alone, only to watch the fertility rate drop more than 25% in that period.
At the center of the government response is a pledge to increase the stipend given to parents with a child under the age of 1 from 300,000 won per month (about $230) to 1 million won ($765) by 2024.
“It feels a bit artificial,” a Korean media specialist told the Times. “It’s weird that the government is trying to intervene in personal relationships.”
The government announced plans in January to increase the paid parental leave period from one year to a year and a half. The U.S., by comparison, has no national paid leave plan, and only about 35% of workers are employed at companies that offer paid parental leave.
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