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Economy

Experts urge reforms to address falling birthrates

From left: Keiichiro Oizumi, Cai Fang, Ahn Sang-hoon, Worawet Suwanrada and Philip B. O'Keefe

TOKYO -- Chinese and South Korean academics on Monday stressed the need for structural reforms and government policy changes to counter the effects of graying demographics in both countries.

The experts were taking part in a panel discussion on dwindling birthrates and aging societies at Nikkei's 22nd International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo. Participants from Thailand and the World Bank also offered their perspectives on the theme.

Cai Fang, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, attributed China's economic slowdown to a shortage of labor. While migrant workers heading from rural villages to cities have propped up the country's growth, the number of young people in the countryside is already starting to decrease, Cai said. "China needs to implement more radical reforms, including measures to increase the labor force participation rate [and] fertility rate."

In South Korea, the number of children is decreasing as more women put off marriage and childbirth. "They are boycotting marriage as well as giving birth to children," said Ahn Sang-hoon, a professor at Seoul National University's Department of Social Welfare, citing a lack of support for child-rearing. "The public sector provides very small welfare benefits, and women need to take all the responsibly for their families." 

At the same time, Ahn observed a decline in filial loyalty that is leading to a rise in the number of lonely seniors. "Once again, the keywords here are small welfare and less filial duty." 

As a solution, Ahn suggested the government should take the initiative in providing child and nursing care. 

"Social services would replace services provided by women free of charge," he said. Women "will be freed up to work ... and women's work-life balance is going to improve. And this will, in turn, increase the fertility rate."  

Ahn continued: "This is the experience of advanced welfare states we've already seen. And providing child care centers and elderly care facilities -- these are the areas where we need to spend more money."

The professor pointed out that seniors, too, would be able to shoulder some of the labor this entails.

"When this happens, we can reduce the burden of welfare, and at the same time we'll be able to increase the retirement age," he added.

(Nikkei)

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