Like its giant neighbor China, which has abandoned its decades-old one-child policy, South Korea is also taking bold measures to address its rapidly aging population.
Officials in Seoul have come up with 200 pages of proposals that include a suggestion for local authorities to play Cupid by arranging matchmaking gatherings for singles, Bloomberg News reported.
The country is also considering giving young couples priority for public housing, launching state-backed campaigns to encourage marriage, and providing more support for people seeking fertility treatment.
“The low birth rate could become a national catastrophe unless the government really acknowledges the significance of the issue,” said Kang Hye Ryun, a professor of business administration at Ewha University in Seoul.
The government is set to release next month a five-year plan to raise the country’s birth rate and combat aging.
South Korea’s fertility rate was 1.2 in 2013, the third-lowest in the world after Hong Kong and Macau, according to the World Bank.
That’s despite the government spending 81.2 trillion won (US$70 billion) since 2006 to address the problem, ruling party lawmaker Shim Jae-chul said last month.
Unless there is improvement in the birth rate, annual growth in Asia’s fourth-largest economy will begin to fall and by the 2050s it may be as low as 1 percent, according to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
The government wants to raise the average number of babies a woman has to 1.5 by 2020 and to 2.1 by 2045.
“Raising the birth rate is especially hard in Korea because of a corporate culture that’s unfavorable to a work-life balance,” said Lee Jong-wha, a Seoul-based professor of economics at Korea University and former chief economist at the Asian Development Bank.
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