The New Global Leader in Demographic Decline

Steven Mosher
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
PRI Weekly Briefing
5 January 2007
Vol. 9, No. 1
Reproduced with Permission

In the race to the birthrate bottom, it's always neck-and-neck. The anti-child behaviors of Western and Westernized societies have been worsening so quickly that new lows get set all the time. In their quest for self-destruction, Italy, Spain, and Japan have often competed for first place. But there could be a new winner in town. According to her government, South Korea's total fertility rate has reached an unprecedentedly dismal 1.08. Replacement rate is 2.1. Yes, South Koreans are halving their numbers with each generation, for now. What's to prevent that 1.08 turning into 0.9 in a few years, especially as the population's rapid aging continues and a greater and greater proportion of South Korea's women are past child-bearing age?

So after decades of trying to coerce women into having fewer children, the government is doing an about-face. The logic of command-and-control: Come in and tell people what to do, and then increase your power to deal with the disastrous consequences of that first intervention. If the government hadn't meddled in the first place, perhaps South Korea would not be in such a mess.

In 1961, with the encouragement of our government, South Korea established a rigid population control program. Government employees with more than two children were denied promotions. Third and younger children were denied many benefits, and small families received preference in housing allotments. The birthrate plummeted to 1.7 by the '90s, and South Korea finally abandoned her population control program in 1996. But it was too late. Cultural attitudes and economic realities had changed.

The government hopes that soap operas may help. It works closely with the local Planned Parenthood affiliate, which is now talking about raising the birthrate (seeing is believing: Is this credible? "Faced with a tumbling birthrate and women souring on the idea of marriage and family, the South Korean government is reaching out to a small group of people believed to have the power to avert a demographic catastrophe: prime-time drama writers," reported the Los Angeles Times on December 10. "Last month, the Planned Population Federation of Korea held a two-day seminar for writers of TV soaps and dramas and urged them to create more situations that show happy mothers with their children. The aim is to counter an anti-baby mood that is leading South Korea down the path to being, well, a smaller country."

It is a peculiar evil of secular post-modernity that not only are many men reluctant to marry and have children - a circumstance that has occurred in many societies in history - but now women don't want to, either. Not strictly speaking peculiar, however, since a few other societies historically have faced the same cultural phenomenon-just before they vanished from the face of the Earth forever.

"The idea of leaning on TV writers for social engineering followed the release of a government study of 50 South Korean dramas that shows a television landscape in which single life is portrayed as cool, children as a burden, and love as something that does not always have to lead to marriage and a family," said the Times. "And that's important in a country where the audience of potential mothers -- women in their 20s and 30s -- is known to be heavily influenced by TV dramas."

How influenced? Go Bong-hwan, a female screenwriter, said, "They tend to see the TV character's problem as their problem, to the point that some Korean husbands worry that their wife might have an extramarital affair just because her favorite character in a drama is having an affair."

I do not know if young Korean women are as divorced from reality as that statement suggests, but I doubt even such powerful TV soaps can reverse trends as deep-seated as materialism, hedonism, and feminism, especially if Planned Parenthood is to have a leading role in promoting higher birthrates. When men and women have been raised with the notions that material accumulation and immediate gratification lead to happiness, and women to believe that their value lies in being as much like men as possible, something more systematic is needed, and from people who believe in it-and who don't profit by culling human numbers.

Unfortunately, the South Korean government plans to embark on a course that may have some short-term benefits but will, in the long-term, encourage the very trends that are exterminating its people, as well as all the other peoples of the Westernized world. The Yonhap News Agency reported today that South Korea's sinister-sounding Minister for Gender Equality and Family wants to move more women into the workforce. Of course, working mothers, on average, have fewer children than traditional mothers, and most women who place career first don't want to "waste" time and money on more than one child, if that. Jang Ha-jin also wants to increase government funding for child care, including infant care, further fraying the bonds between parents and their children. Instead of making it easier for men and women to form traditional families, the government is using taxpayer dollars to promote the opposite.

South Korea's demographic situation is dire. Between 2000 and 2005, the proportion of women 25 to 34 who were single rose 12.4 points to 37.9% while the proportion who were married dropped 12.7 points to 60.3%. In the same time period, the number of single-person households rose by 42.5%. Even among married women, over a third say that having children is not a priority. Marriage, family, and children are going out the cultural door as fast as Hello Kitty dolls go out the toy store's.

Just after Christmas, Finance Minister Kwon O-kyu said that mounting debt and slowing export growth were threatening South Korea's economy. What else? "A low fertility rate and the aging of society are among major factors that weaken the country's growth potential," he said.

South Korean medical students are even using robot mothers and babies to practice assisting at childbirth because there aren't enough real ones. Homogeneous, disciplined, top-down Asian societies can sometimes change direction quickly. If the government stops consulting Planned Parenthood and ever looks at what has actually worked to sustain societies over millennia, perhaps South Korea can be saved.