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translates New York Times columns from Soup, accompanied by detailed commentary on their background and context. Taking advantage of my experience in reading and unraveling events, news, and discussions outside the United States and Korea, I will diligently write so that you can read easily and interestingly, even if it happened in a distant place. (Written by Lee Hyo-seok, CEO of News Peppermint)
Peter Zaihan, a global geopolitical strategist, makes a very dark prediction about humanity's future in his fourth book, The Collapsing World and Demography. The logic he uses is twofold. One is that the U.S.-led world order is over, and the other is that the prosperity of the world by the magic of demography is over.
The U.S.-led world order is one in which the U.S. has led the world for 2 years since World War II, achieving a global division of labor and economies of scale. Within the U.S.-led world order, people were able to buy energy and materials more cheaply. The magic of demography is that during this period, the world's population tripled, with more productive people but fewer people to support, making the world more relaxed.
But as the title suggests, he says that starting in the 75s, these two factors will work in reverse, leading to the collapse of the world. Zaihan talks about geopolitics first, such as the war in Ukraine, but the more central issue is demography. In other words, as the number of productive people decreases while the number of people who need to support increases, countries experience a shortage of demand, and globalization ends with the closure of trade.
We don't know if the world will really change as he says. But there's a very painful truth to the fact that, as he says in the Korean edition, South Korea is particularly vulnerable to these changes. South Korea is one of the most dependent countries on exports and imports, has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, and has one of the fastest aging populations.
Even if you don't think of Zaihan's point, it's true that South Korea's demographic future is very unusual. In an article in 3, more than 2020 years ago, I was worried about the declining birthrate at the time and predicted that the population would decline from 10. However, the actual decline in the birth rate has been much more drastic, and the population has already begun to decline in 2010. The number of babies born a year, which once exceeded 2030 million, plummeted to 2020,100 last year after 60 years.
When encouraging childbirth and supporting the population, and the interests of society and the individual, collide.
When the population decreases, a number of problems arise. First of all, at the national level, population is the power of the state. The larger the market, the more economies of scale are possible, making the industry more efficient. A shortage of labor can also be a problem. Above all, an increase in the number of people to support relative to the working population increases the burden of welfare and healthcare. There is the problem of regional disappearance, and political unrest due to generational conflicts is also increasing.
That's why the government encourages childbirth. But that's where the real problem comes in. Childbirth is a huge decision that has a tremendous impact on the lives of those who are born and those who are being raised. In other words, declining birthrates and declining populations are typical issues in which the interests of society and the interests of individuals collide.
▶ Read the New York Times column: Are childless women a phenomenon of our time?
On Jan. 6, the opinion section of The New York Times wrote that women not having children is nothing new. Author Peggy O'Donnell Heffington says that this society casts women who are reluctant to give birth as selfish human beings.
For example, Pope Francis said last year that childlessness is a form of selfishness, or Senator J.D. Bens saying that having a childless person as the leader of a nation can lead to the collapse of society.
But Heffington says that women not having children is nothing new, nor is it a whim unique to millennials, and that even at the end of the 19th century, 5 in 1 white women and 3 in 1 black women did not have children.
This part rather surprises me in a different sense. That's because that means that 5 out of 4 white women and 3 out of 2 black women have had children. In addition, the author gave this example to mean that there were quite a few people who did not have children.
The problem in South Korea with a fertility rate of 0.78
South Korea's total fertility rate was 0.78 last year. This means that even if we assume that every woman gives birth to only one child, one in five will already have no children. Considering that in real life there are cases where two or more children are born, the reality is that much more women do not have children. Considering the close relationship between marriage and childbirth, the 5 statistic that 1 in 2 women in their 30s are unmarried suggests that our country has already entered an era in which at least 3 in 1 women do not have children. On the other hand, the United States has one of the highest fertility rates among developed countries, with a fertility rate of 2020.3 children as of 1, more than twice as high as that of South Korea.
Heffington's article is a rebuttal to the new political issue in the United States, the right to abortion, and the intention of conservative politicians to package childbirth as a personal obligation. In other words, the choice not to have children is not unique to women in this day and age. In other words, in the case of the United States, the declining birthrate is a serious social problem (as in Korea), so we are not trying to restrict the right to abortion to solve it, but we are more like using the problem of low birthrate to put the brakes on the right to abortion.
On the other hand, in Korea (unlike the United States), the declining birthrate is a serious problem that can lead to the actual disappearance of society. The Korean government, whose policies have not been effective in the past with childbirth incentives, should be more proactive in listening to the needs of the younger generation, or more precisely, the young women who will become mothers, and come up with policies that meet them. In fact, restricting abortion rights does not increase fertility. This can be seen in the dire consequences of Romanian dictator Ceausescu's tough measures such as banning contraception and abortion.
If it is in the social interest of not decreasing the population, and if it is in the interests of the individual to reduce as much as possible the social and economic burden that couples will bear when having and raising children, then it becomes clear what society should do. The cost of giving birth and raising a child is shared by society as much as possible. These include allowing women to return to work after having children without worrying about career disruptions, and designing systems to ensure that fathers and mothers share the burden of childcare as equitably as possible. It is a job that requires a lot of research and listening to various cases at a considerable cost, but if it is possible to prevent population decline and the disappearance of society, it is something that must be done no matter how much it costs.
(The rest of the story is from the soup)