In celebration of my birthday, I decided to write about how I would fix the low fertility rate problem, which is one of the most concerning issues happening in my home country, South Korea. South Korea is struggling with the lowest fertility rate in the world at 0.81. When considering the nation needs more than 2.0 to maintain its population, anything below 1 is catastrophic. But South Korea has a 0.81 fertility rate, which is predicted to get even worse. Understanding what is happening to my country is very important, as Korea represents the fertility rate decline of developed nations. The solution to Korea’s fertility rate will be the one for all developed countries with low fertility issues.
South Korea has the lowest fertility rates in the world(Source)
I am in my late 20s, married, and employed. Despite having some of the traits that are ideal for raising children, my wife and I do not have any plans to have one at the moment. To understand the low fertility rate in developed countries, I used my POV to analyze the cause and induce my solution. My theory is, that there is no short-term reward or positive impressions associated with having babies, and implementing that short-term reward mechanism is key to increasing the fertility rate.
Before birth control was an available option, sex and orgasm were good enough rewards for having babies. Now that we move forward with higher human and feminine rights, new types of reward must be given to replace the rudimentary reward mechanism of orgasm. Surprisingly, in the US, I found three artificial reward mechanisms that successfully attracted people to be part of something as difficult or expensive as having babies. Those are US Military, Universities, and Pets.
Speaking from my experience, being part of the military is hard. Putting a formerly free citizen into a disciplined lifestyle is a painful process, and without conscription, the military is challenging to maintain its size and power. However, there is one country that maintains a military superpower without conscription, which is the US military. The reward mechanism they created is highly effective and applies to resolving the low fertility rates problem.
The biggest reward military gives to its soldiers is social recognition. When are at an airport, we always hear military personnel enter first. I once saw the article that, when the Medal of Honor owning veteran got onboard the airplane, the cabin crew recognized it via speaker with passengers clapping in appreciation. Whether that story is true or not, there is a social consensus to respect and appreciate those in military service, which is now essential for parents with children.
Parents with children should be granted a right to priority or free access to all possible services. Those that come to my mind in addition to existing airplane priority access are airport lounge access, designated mall parking lot, healthcare pass, museum pass and entrance priority, theatre entrance priority, and even standing ovation to parents raising more than three children. Providing a societal level of pleasure and benefit is proven effective in the US military, which should now be applied to parents with children.
For those who think it is not fair, your mind shall change once your country’s fertility rate hits 0.81.
Average Annual Private Tuition Fees (source)
College education in the US is the highest in the world. According to Business Insider, the US tops the ranking for public and private tuition fees in the world (source). Despite the huge cost associated with a college education, students and parents are willing to take loans to get into and graduate from college. This tendency gets stronger for more prestigious schools, as it often attracts international students willing to pay for tuition that is much larger than their own country’s educational cost.
The benefit of US colleges comes from their prestigious reputation. That is, if you are from a prestigious school like Harvard University, you have a medal of prestige that can provide you with continuous moments of appraisal/recognition that feel great. Having children should also carry that level of prestige so parents also feel constant moments of delightful feelings.
What makes the college prestigious? I think it is determined by how active, helpful, and influential the alumni community is. We should imitate everything that college does to maintain its community. Alumni events, employment reference, donation collection, marketing, lobbying, ranking, sports event, and many more are available options. Defining “Parents” as a cause of community, that group of people should exchange the feeling of camaraderie and pride.
An increasing trend in the total number of pets(source)
Living with a pet is not as easy as people without pets think. If you have a dog, you have to put an effort to give walks 3~5 times a day and spend quality time. Raising a dog in New York City, where I live, costs around $1,700~$4,400 per year (source). I have my cat Miro, and Miro also require a great amount of attention and maintenance fee. Once, she swallowed a wedding band and the surgery had to be performed at a great cost. Still, the number of people owning pets exponentially grew, especially after the pandemic lockdown.
I believe the positive tangible association is a key to a preference for pets over human babies. When I go down the street, I see numerous adorable puppies that make me want to pet them. On Tiktok and YouTube, cute cat videos dominated my feed, getting all the likes and comments I can give. As such, pets are associated with cute, adorable, and joyful emotions.
Unfortunately for human babies, they are associated with the nightmare of crying babies for 6 hours in an airplane, or with career severance for mothers. Most importantly, I cannot personally remember when was the last time I held a baby. I do not see them on the street, at the home, workplace, or even in the park. That is, I have limited exposure to positive interactions with babies to override the bad associations. I, therefore, suggest having more opportunities for random people like me to interact with babies. Event, community, social convention, obligation, anything should be on the table. Today, there is just so little interaction with human babies. Of course, babies’ safety is first. We need to find a safe environment for such interactions to become more common and easy.
Let’s Do Anything NOW
So far, fertility-related policies have been oriented around how to make up for the drawbacks of raising a child. However, I believe what is more urgent is to implement a short-term reward for anyone giving birth to and raising children. Babies associated as sources of noise, sleepless nights, and expensive are highly problematic, especially in the absence of any positive associations. Even though there are positive ones, given the declining fertility rate in developed nations, it is not enough.
The reason why I bring up US Military, Universities, and Pets is to find any social reward that can replace sex and orgasm as a traditional motivation to have children. I am open to hearing any thoughts and ideas sparked by reading this article because this issue needs ideation from all over the world. The fact 0.81 fertility rate exist in the world should be alarming enough not only to South Koreans but also to countries with low fertility rate. It can only be a matter of time, and the results will be catastrophic.