ⓒ Japanese version of JoongAng Ilbo / JoongAng Ilbo2023.01.25 13:37
Recently, countermeasures against the declining birth rate have become a hot topic. It all started when Na Kyung-won, vice-chairman of the Low Birth and Aging Society Committee, mentioned low-interest housing loans for newlyweds and a plan to reduce the principle in conjunction with childbirth. After Hungarian countermeasures were mentioned, Vice Chairman Luo was dismissed, and there was also controversy regarding the people’s candidacy for the leader of the Power Party. The issue of the declining birth rate, which is a factor having a serious impact on the Korean economy, has failed to attract much attention so far.
South Korea’s total fertility rate in 2021 will be 0.81, the lowest among OECD member countries. In Japan, the number has increased slightly from 1.26 in 2005, and has remained at the 1.3 level. What is the reason why Korea’s fertility rate has fallen faster than Japan, which had the lowest fertility rate? After graduating from Nihon University, Professor Sasano Misae from Ibaraki University received her master’s and doctorate degrees from Seoul National University. After living in South Korea for 15 years, I compared the situation in both countries. Last year, at the Institute of Japanese Studies at Seoul National University, I presented research results under the theme “How are the causes of the declining birth rate in South Korea and Japan different?”
While Japan’s birth rate has steadily declined, South Korea’s has plummeted. In Korea and Japan, the number of births fell by 25% between 1980 and 2000. Both countries were at similar levels. However, between 2000 and 2020, South Korea decreased by 57.2%, while Japan decreased by only 29.5%. According to Professor Sasano, South Korea spent much more money on countermeasures against the declining birth rate than Japan, but it was not effective.
Professor Sasano analyzes that it has something to do with “a compressive increase in the educational attainment of young women.” In South Korea, there is a large gap between the generation of parents and children in the proportion of women who have received a college degree or higher. As of 2020, 18% of South Korean women aged 55-64 have received higher education, but 77% of women aged 25-34 have received higher education. For Korean men, the difference between the parents’ generation and the children’s generation is about 30 percentage points, while for women it is close to 60 percent. My daughter’s generation has become more educated than anywhere else in the world.
Professor Sasano emphasized, “Only by understanding the changes in the values of young Korean women can we understand things like the rapid decline in the birth rate.” Professor Sasano analyzed data from a five-year comparative survey conducted by the Japanese Cabinet Office on the values of young people aged 13 to 29 in Japan, South Korea, the United States, Britain, Germany, France, and Sweden.
◆ A survey of young people’s values in seven countries…
Young Korean women were very unique. In a 2018 survey, more than 90% of young South Korean women opposed the question, “Should husbands work outside the home and wives stay at home?” It is much higher than Western European countries known for gender equality. About half of young women in the US and UK answered yes to the question, “Mothers should take care of their children when they are young,” while young women in South Korea disagreed that it was the most common.
There was also a difference among Korean women when comparing the value of marriage. South Korean women had the lowest number of respondents who said they should get married, but what was even more unusual was that a relatively large number of young Korean women answered that they should not get married. Professor Sasano said, “There has been more change in the value of children. While the number of young Korean women who say they don’t necessarily need children has increased, there is a trend among young Japanese women who want children. I was to tell us. When asked what is important in their lives, the ratio of choosing family was high in other countries, but in South Korea, the ratio of choosing work, society, and themselves over family increased significantly compared to previous surveys.
Men and women are worried about employment because of the economic crisis
Professor Sasano cited changes in the labor market after the economic crisis as the cause. In South Korea, both men and women felt uneasy at the same time, while in Japan women felt relatively uneasy about employment. This is because Japanese economic institutions have chosen to protect male full-time workers. According to the analysis, both men and women feel insecure in the Korean labor market, and the competition between the two sexes has deepened.
In South Korea, women’s higher educational attainment has closed the gap between men’s and women’s college enrollment rates, while in Japan, men’s college enrollment rates are still much higher than women’s. Professor Sasano said, “South Korea has introduced a quota system for women in parliamentary elections. There have been changes,” he said.
However, these rapid changes are evident in a certain generation of women, and the diagnosis is that the older generation, society, and the workplace system have not caught up, creating friction. As this gap continues to close, young Korean women are likely to delay marriage and childbearing. Even if the budget is invested for the falling birth rate, it will be difficult to increase the birth rate unless the division of childcare between men and women and the culture of gender equality in the workplace moves forward .
Japanese women “want to live like their mothers” Koreans “don’t want to live like their mothers” (2)