South Korea is a liberal breeder’s dream come true. With government assistance providing parental leave, lending centers giving families toys and cribs, and help with child costs, you would think their population would be booming. Yet, they have the world’s lowest birth rate. With the number of babies expected per South Korean woman dropping to 0.78, they found a way to drop from last year’s 0.81. Currently, the figure to maintain population is 2.1.
Making this low number so much more surprising is the government funding just for successfully procreating. Following the lead of many European countries that are scratching and clawing to grow their population, the South Korean government is offering their own so-called “baby bonuses,” but with significantly fewer strings than their European counterparts.
Starting in 2022, mothers have received a 2 million won ($1,510) cash payment, easily outspending even the socialist ran France. From newborns through to age one, families receive 700,000 won ($528) per month. From one to two, that figure drops to 350,000 won ($264). In 2024 these figures will jump to 1 million won ($755) and 500,000 won ($377), respectively. A 200,000 won ($151) stipend is available for kids up to elementary school age, with low-income and single parents eligible for extra money on a case-by-case basis.
Busan is not just South Korea’s second-largest city, it is also the home of some special funding on top of the country’s already robust programs. Any birth of a child over number three is met with a 10 million won ($7,552) spliff. They aren’t alone in this offer though. The South Jeolla Province in the rural SW part of South Korea provides an additional 600,000 won ($453) per child up until age seven. This 50.4 million won ($38,000) stipend is a huge help to new and young families.
Yet, to many, the idea of having kids is a very foreign concept. To 39-year-old Korean language interpreter Cho Joo-yeon kids have never been a priority. “Having a child would be a huge responsibility because the basis would be how my parents raised me, which is a huge standard to live up to. I’ve never wanted to be a pregnant person. I’m not going to sacrifice my career for a child.”
Despite having a well-paid husband, they would rather spend that extra money in other ways. “We like the financial leisure that we have, we don’t have to worry about sending children to expensive schools or thinking about extra savings. We can splurge on ourselves and have that extra luxury.”
They aren’t alone in this decision either. A 2022 survey by the Office for Government Policy Coordination found that an astonishing 36.7% of 19–34-year-olds have absolutely no desire to have any children. The Seoul Foundation of Women & Family conducted its own survey, and that number soars up to 60%. As it stands the country only reported 192,000 marriages in 2022, and unwed pregnancies are still incredibly rare and are at an all-time low.
Many young people see the horrific work culture the country has developed, with ever-increasing housing and education costs as their chief reasons not to bring children into the world. Unsurprisingly, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper’s survey earlier this year discovered 27.4% of their residents blamed the burden of childcare costs as the reason people aren’t having more kids.
Officials across the country have suggested some controversial ideas to help fix the population problem. From waiving military service for men who have three or more children to allowing the hiring of foreign workers to do housework for less than the country’s minimum wage.
Professor Song Da-Yeong, a social welfare professor at Incheon National University, is not a fan of any of these cash bases solutions. Speaking with Aljazeera he explained, “Child-rearing is not a matter of providing financial support for the first two years of a child’s life. It is not possible to provide high levels of parental benefits until a child is all grown up.” He’s not wrong. It is impossible to provide all of the help, but getting people out of the starting gate is a huge help for most.