Don’t discourage youths from having children

2023. 12. 5. 20:20
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Our society must restore a healthy social culture where people find great happiness and joy in family life.

Ha Jung-hoonThe author is a pediatrician in Seoul. South Korea’s fertility rate of 0.78 last year was the world’s lowest. The depopulation problem is serious enough to worry prestigious scholars, including Claudia Goldin, a Harvard professor who won this year’s Noble Prize in Economic Sciences for her studies on women in work. Experts have offered various solutions, including greater labor participation, housing subsidies, amenities for work-life balance and the alleviation in overall competitive environment in the society.

The government revisits its basic policies aimed at tackling low birth rates and a rapidly aging society every five years. The latest additions include expanded child support, extended childcare leave, bigger tax deductions and care-giving allowances.

But the government’s efforts stop far short of persuading the younger generation to have children. According a survey released by Statistics Korea last August, those aged 19 to 34 who think positively of marriage fell to 36.4 percent in 2022 versus 56.6 percent 10 years ago. More than half — more precisely, 53.5 percent — don’t think it is necessary to have children, even after marriage. Their perception of marriage and family institution is turning more and more negative.

Gone are the days when people had to rely on traditional media like newspapers and broadcasters for information and entertainment. Various online and mobile platforms now provide media access anywhere and at any time. Information on marriages and births is overflowing. They can shape perceptions of marriage and births, rather than merely providing facts.

But TV programs these days build a negative image of marriage and family life. Both old and new media show parents wrestling with difficult children, while social media is filled with rich people pampering their offspring with luxury. This implies that you need either great wealth or extraordinary patience to raise children. Some of the scenes on marriage and family life portrayed in media would dissuade anyone from getting married and having children.

The wave of policies to deal with the urgent birth issue could actually be giving our youth more stress. Experts advise regarding the support programs needed to ease the child care burden, which can feed the perception that marriage and child care can be difficult to handle without sufficient support. When discussing measures to promote births, the first thing the media mentions is the difficulty of raising children under the current environment. Although policy should aim to ease the population’s burdens, television programs only emphasize the pain of raising children.

The young have been fed with negativity since Korea’s birth rate hit the world’s lowest 10 years ago. No wonder they bear apprehension about starting a family. Traditional and online platforms appear to be vying for the most negative portrayal of marriage and childcare. Since the young have been exposed to these messages for so long, they feel the government’s financial support is not worth the risk.

Most parents I meet at my hospital say they are happy to raise their children despite the hardship. Despite the opportunity cost of getting married and having children, most of them say they would choose family over single life if they had another chance.

Dramas full of conflict are entertaining. But the media must consider their impact on youth’s perception. Broadcasters and other media platforms have a responsibility to spread accurate information about marriages and births.

Our society must share the urgency to fight its ultra-low birthrate, as Korea could eventually disappear from the map if its depopulation issue is not fixed. There could be many solutions to the problem. But the goal should be to spread balanced information and portrayals of happy family life instead of biases towards hard marriages and child-rearing. Our society must restore a healthy social culture where people find great happiness and joy in family life. Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

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