South Korea now seeks ways to live with low birth rate

South Korea's fertility rate of 0.92 was the world's lowest in 2019, and likely fell further last year. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - After years of failed efforts to boost the birth rate, South Korea's government now says it will focus some of its energy on learning to live with population decline, rather than simply trying to halt it.

The government has "found it will be difficult to reverse the low birth rate trend in the near future" and so will be adopting a "two-track" approach of encouraging births, while finding ways to adjust the economy to a shrinking and ageing population, according to a joint statement from 11 ministries on Wednesday (Jan 27).

South Korea's fertility rate of 0.92 was the world's lowest in 2019, and likely fell further last year as the uncertainty of the pandemic discouraged young people from marrying and having children.

The population fell for the first time ever last year, while more people opting to live alone pushed the number of households to a record.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the negative shock from declining population by causing career breaks for women facing increased childcare burdens and disrupting the inflow of foreign workers," the statement said.

The statement announced the launch of a third government task force on population policy since President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017, and outlined its goals.

To minimise the economic hit from a declining population, the government plans to encourage more women and seniors to stay in the labour force, while also seeking ways to accept more foreign workers.

The government will develop a new visa to attract researchers and other professionals from overseas, while also providing ways to help retired people open their own businesses.

South Korea will also strengthen "legal and institutional support" for non-traditional types of families such as those based on common-law marriage or non-married couples with babies.

Various residential and safety measures for single households will be considered.

The government plans to release detailed measures from May.

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