South Korea Launched An Awkward Fertility Campaign

Photo: James Tye/Getty Images.
It’s one thing when your in-laws tease you, asking, When are you going to start having babies? Maybe they offer incentives: They’ll babysit, they’ll move closer (Is this familiar to me personally? Yes, yes it is). But what about when, rather than your in-laws poking you, it’s your local officials, and then your, um, government that’s trying to push you to have babies? According to The New York Times, South Korean officials have been trying to do exactly that for years now to combat the country's birthrates, which are among the lowest in the world. Officials have given offers of allowances, handsome maternity-leave policies, and baby clothes, but apparently it wasn’t enough — on Thursday, the government got involved. And its approach to solving what is a legitimate issue — The Times points out that it’s a real socio-economic challenge for South Korea — can only be described as strange. (Well, there are a lot of things it can be described as, actually, but strange might be among the least offensive.)
The government created a website with a “birth map” on it, ranking cities and towns by the amount of women of childbearing age they each contained. The map used various shades of pink to indicate the differences. But according to The Times, the website didn’t last long — it was only up for a few hours before being shut down. So, why are low birthrates an issue in South Korea? While women in America struggle (to try) to have it all, women in South Korea really struggle to have it all. The Times reports that although women are gaining a place in the job market as costs increase, “they often find it all but impossible to keep their careers and raise children.” Of course, women can sometimes still feel an unspoken pressure not to work once they become pregnant, or to still be the primary caretaker even if they are working. In addition, day cares are pricey, although The Times reports that the government is trying to change that by looking to add more. But, in the meantime, what are the logical solutions to these issues? Women have less children, or sometimes even none; they also marry later or remain single.

The Times reports that when the Ministry of the Interior’s birth map was first introduced, the idea was for the map to “promote competition” among cities and towns to have the most babies. Instead, many naturally found the map insulting, and feel that its creation shows that the government doesn’t understand the complexity of South Korea’s low birthrate issue, or where it stems from. According to The Times, Han Chang-min, a spokesman for the opposition Justice Party, said on Friday, “It shows the government sees birthrates just as a woman’s problem.” Hopefully, rejecting this map will set the government straight.

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