Koreans are growing old rapidly. According to the Korean National Statistics Office, the total birthrate which was presumed 6.2 persons in 1960 decreased greatly to 2.83 persons in 1980. And the birthrate has continuously decreased - 1.59 persons in 1990, 1.16 persons in 2004, and 1.08 persons in 2005. When the national birthrate falls below 1.3 persons per year, a nation is classified as extremely low in birthrates. Korea, however, doesn't even reach the standard, 1.3 persons, and is in the lowest rank among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries. Then, why do we neglect the decline of the birthrate? What causes a decline in birthrate?
First of all, a decline of the birthrate indicates an aging society. Let's take a look at the appearance of an aged population. In 1960, the rate corresponding to old persons over age 65 among total population was just 2.9%. Thereafter, the rate of an aged population slightly increased - 3.1% in 1970 and 3.8% in 1980. The increasing rate, however, became intensified from 1990 because the rate of an aged population steeply increased by 5.1% in 1990 and by 7.0% in 2000. That means a sharp decline of the birthrate fuels an increase in the rate of an aged population. If a decline of the birthrate lasts, the rate of an aged population will reach to 10% in 2010 and to 14% in 2020. Consequently, Korea will be a super-aging society.
Subsequently, a decline of the birthrate can raise a problem with the national pension system. In the national pension system, people receive much more money than they pay into it. However, because an increasing contraception rate fuels an increase in the rate of an aged population and a young population who has to support the lower part of the pyramid decreases day by day, there exist more beneficiaries than payers. In other words, a "contraception disaster" fueling a decline of the birthrate causes fund exhaustion within the national pension system.
Then, what is the basic cause in the decline of the birthrate inducing these problems? There are three basic causes. The first cause is the rise of women on the social ladder and their increased participation in economic activity. As time went on, the average educational standard of women increased. It is a fact that the number of women participating in economic activity has increased through a rise in the average educational standard and their place in the social hierarchy. Because of these changes, modern women don't want marriage and children to obstruct their work when they are engaged in economic activity. As a result, the average marrying age of women increases, causing a decline in the birthrate.
The second cause is a change in our outlook on children. These days, couples have a small-scale outlook on children, meaning they want only a few children and to bring them up well. This attitude towards children, however, not only leads to a decline in the national birthrate but also raises a moral problem. First, it is natural that this outlook on children fuel a decline of the birthrate because families have only a few children. And based on this viewpoint, more and more single child families are emerging. Along with this, a small-scale outlook on children combined with the notion of preferring a son to a daughter also contributes to the decline of birthrate. In addition, the rate of induced abortions is increasing, neglecting the life of the unborn child. As a result, the small-scale outlook on children can be said to cause a decline of the birthrate and a moral problem.
Incidentally, more serious than this small-scale outlook on children is a notion known as Double Income No Kids (DINK). Many young married couples opt not to have kids but to work and spend their earnings on themselves. DINK is a term for such couples, who often live in and around large cities and have well-paid jobs. They want to enjoy their lives, taking weekend trips and living comfortably, saving money unsparingly for their old age. In pursuing their desire, children are regarded as beings that demand too much sacrifice. Because these couples never want to have children, their influence on the birth rate is strikingly more powerful than those with a small-scale outlook on children.
Subsequently, the third cause is a change of outlook on marriage. For example there are many pursuing the single life.This group includes the young generation who has economic power and enjoys their life by living alone. They don't want to adjust themselves to the institution of marriage. Freedom, ideals, and work are more important than marriage to them and they would like to live free. It is expected that this group will increase by 0.3% annually. If this group continues to increase, the decline of the Korean birthrate will get worse.
Then, under a society where perspectives on children and marriage are changing, what is the outlook on children and marriage of Yeungnam University (YU) students? Are our students on an equal footing with the changed viewpoint of society at large? The Yeungnam Observer (YNO) surveyed 500 various students - 206 males and 294 females - on outlooks on children and marriage, including their views on love. The statistical data are as follows.
Questionnaire Survey of 500 Students in YU
First, let's take a look at students' opinions related to love. In a question, "Do you think love must accord with marriage?" Three hundred and forty-four students (68.8%) said, "No, I don't think so", and 156 students (31.2%) said, "Yes, I think so". In the next question "What is for you the limit to physical closeness between unmarried couples?", one hundred and four (51.7%) among 206 males said "sexual relations". On the other hand, only 48 (16.4%) among 294 females said "sexual relations", and females who said "kissing" had the highest rate (72.9%). This suggests that males are more open than females about sex.
YNO also asked students, "Could you live with your partner?" one hundred and sixty-eight males (82%) said "Yes", while 25 (12.2%) said "No problem", 61 (29.8%) said "I can if I am married", and "Depending on circumstances, I can" was 82 (40%). "Yes" held a majority of males. In females, 144 females (49%) said "Yes", and 150 (51%) said "I never can". This response suggests females are more conservative than males. But overall, it can be said that many students of YU are open to cohabitation.
Secondly, let's take a look at students' thinking related to marriage. YNO asked students, "Will you get married?" In males who responded to this question, 179 (86.9%) among 206 students said "Yes, I'll get married". In females, 212 (72.1%) among 294 females said "Yes". Based on this response, The Observer can conclude that most of students of YU want to get married. However, we can't ignore the number of students who said "No, I won't get married" and "I don't know yet". Especially, in a case of females, the rate (27.9%) was higher than the rate of males (13.1%). Although the number of students who said "No" or "I don't know yet" didn't hold a majority, the rate is never low. Next to the above question "Why do you want to get married?", "Because marriage provides psychological stability" was the largest grouped response (34.8%), and "because of love" was in the second place (32.8%).
Then what do students think about gender roles within married life? On this aspect, YNO asked students a few questions: "What do you (only females) think about the husband doing housework?" The largest grouped response was "The husband has to do housework" (35.2%). And "Depending on circumstances, a husband can do housework" held the second rank (22.2%). In a question "How do you (only males) feel about doing housework while your wife works?", 129 males (62.9%) said "I don't mind". According to these questions, we can determine that many students have different ways of thinking about traditional gender roles.
Finally, let's take a look at students' thinking related to children. YNO asked students "How many children will you have when you get married?", "I want to have 2 children" was the largest grouped response (52.6%). Three children held 19.4% and "1 child" held 15%. These responses - 15% want one child and 52.6%want two children - suggest that most of students of YU also prefer only a small number of children.
All of us know well the social function of marriage, which is to preserve society through giving birth to children. Most young people in our society were born by the social function of marriage. They may not want their society to disappear.
Of course, marriage isn't the only way of preserving society under the changed Korean society. Children are also born and raised by cohabitating couples. If unmarried young people get married, however, they will be able to raise their children under a rather comfortable environment and their children will also grow up nicely. So YNO hopes that university students and every young person will deeply consider marriage and having children.
Of course, social efforts must be also accompanied. Korea took much less time to reach a low birthrate than other developed countries. So it is a fact that no countermeasures to the decline in birthrate are prepared. France has systematically prepared for a decline of the birthrate and developed one of the best systems for encouraging childbirth. France has developed many programs; medical insurance and tax breaks for families with babies, encouraging adoption, and so on. Therefore, YNO hopes the Korean government will follow France's lead, and provide functional strategies to encourage childbirth. And given that childbirth is often precluded by economic instability, we hope that the Korean government will bend efforts to improve society and the workplace. In this way, when social efforts to increase the birthrate go hand in hand with a private deep consideration, Korea will effectively overcome the decline in birthrate.