Careers create aging society in South Korea

South Korea's rising prosperity gives young women choices their mothers and grandmothers never had. But a declining birth rate has made the country an "aging society." In another generation, South Korea will become a "super-aged" society, where more than 20 per cent of the population is older than 65, says the Dallas Morning News' Jim Landers.

That promises the sort of economic stagnation already characteristic of Japan and spreading through much of the developed world. As President Bush warns Americans, a shrinking workforce will struggle to pay taxes into overstretched health care and retirement benefit programmes.

The United States is in better shape than many countries, says Landers:

  • The U.S. birth rate is 2.08, a level that keeps the population steady between births and deaths; the U.S. population is still growing because of immigrants.

  • South Korea, like Japan, is a nation that shuns immigration; in Asia, aging societies crimp consumer spending as workers put more of their disposable income into savings.

    The root of the problem is a dearth of babies, according to Landers:

  • By 2002, Korea's birth rate – the number of children born to each woman of child-bearing age – had fallen to 1.17.

  • The rate crept back slightly to 1.19 in 2003, but only because the number of women of child-bearing age had dropped.

  • Today, "1-1-9" is a symbol of national emergency for South Korea.

    Part of the decline is caused by women entering the labour force, says Landers. Half of young South Korean women, who are among the world's most educated females, have careers outside the home.

    South Korean women are also waiting longer to get married. Since 1985, the average marriage age of women has risen from 24.8 years to 27.5 years.

    Source: Jim Landers, Careers create 'aging society' in S. Korea: Economic stagnation foreseen as women's choices lower birth rate, Dallas Morning News, August 17, 2005.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 23 August 2005
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