Seoul, South Korea – the capital of the nation with the world’s lowest fertility rate – launched a survey on Wednesday asking residents if they approved of an idea to pay 100 million won in cash (about $72,500) to parents for every baby their family welcomes.

The survey, according to the Korea Herald, will ask respondents if knowing they would receive a major cash incentive would make them reconsider their personal family planning and if they believe that the program expense, estimated to be around 22 trillion won ($16 billion), is reasonable.

The idea is the latest among a growing number of initiatives proposed in the country to encourage South Korean couples to consider parenthood, including an already existing benefits regime that offers parental leave, healthcare benefits, cheaper mortgages, and other longer-term support for parents from the government.

In January, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare debuted a large set of benefits for parents that included a similar upfront cash bonus, but only worth 2 million won (about $1,500). The new initiative added to that bonus a “monthly salary” for those with children under one year old, worth the equivalent of $728 and a program worth half that for parents of children between ages one and two.

South Korea logged a birth rate of 0.72 children per woman of childbearing age in 2023, the world’s lowest rate for a tenth year in a row. Scientists consider a 2.1 birth rate, or each woman of childbearing age having about 2.1 children in her lifetime, “replacement fertility,” or the rate at which the total population of a country will remain unchanged. A rate of 1.3 and below is considered “very low.”

The number of newborns in South Korea born in 2023 was almost eight percent lower than in the year before.

Child safety seats displayed for sale at Mom & Baby Expo in Ilsan, South Korea, on Saturday, March 2, 2024. South Korea set a fresh record for the world’s lowest fertility rate last month as the impact of the nation’s aging demographics looms large for its medical system, social welfare provision and economic growth. (Jean Chung/Bloomberg via Getty)

In Seoul, the most recent studies have found the birth rate to hover at around 0.55 children per woman.

Struggles with inflation, housing prices, and other financial complications often arise as an explanation for why South Koreans are having children at a much lower rate than people in every other country on earth, though some of the countries with the world’s highest fertility rates are more financially challenged. South Korea is also battling a growing anti-child culture: “no-kid zones” have become a trendy way for businesses – such as cafes, restaurants, even public libraries – to keep children out of society, making life more difficult for parents.

In response to the low birth rate, the government of conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol has prioritized top-down programs incentivizing the building of families. Local governments, such as Seoul’s, have put forwarded their innovative plans to boost the child population in the near future. Even Yoon administration officials have expressed a bleak outlook on the situation, however. Finance Minister Choi Sang-mok compared South korea to the Titanic in remarks in December.

“A ship like the Titanic has no choice but to crash by the time it discovers a reef,” Choi lamented.

The $72,500 bonus contemplated in the survey launched in Seoul on Wednesday would join several other benefits for Seoul parents, as listed by the Korea Herald: “Currently, Korean parents with a child receive a sum ranging from 35 million won to 50 million won through various incentives and support programs from birth until the child reaches the age of 7.”

Aiming to include all women of childbearing age in these benefits, Seoul officials also announced on Monday that it would offer a parental leave program paid for by the government for freelance and self-employed workers, which includes a large population of small business owners.

“The Seoul Metropolitan Government said Monday that it will provide 900,000 won ($652) in paid leave to pregnant self-employed individuals and freelancers,” the Korea JoongAng Daily reported, “making it the first locality to adopt such a measure for independent employees. Self-employed and freelance workers with pregnant wives will also receive 800,000 won in paid leave.”

The newspaper noted that over 800,000 people in Seoul are self-employed, running cafes, restaurants, and other small businesses.

“Self-employed individuals and freelancers who are experiencing the joyful moment of birth under such challenging conditions are the true heroes of our time,” JoongAng quoted the mayor of Seoul, Oh Se-hoon, as saying.

The lump-sum bonus Seoul is considering is an idea it apparently borrowed from a private corporation: the building company Booyoung Group, which announced in February it would offer the same sum, 100 million won, to employees for every birth occurring while they work there.

“With the current pace of declining birth rate, the country is expected to be at risk of extinction 20 years from now,” the chairman of Booyoung, Lee Joong-keun, said in February, announcing the program. “The company has adopted the ‘unprecedented’ incentives for employee families to help ease their financial burdens and difficulties in balancing work and life.”

“Booyoung has delivered a combined 7 billion won to 70 employees, either man or woman, who had one child or more since January 2021, the company said in a statement,” the Yonhap News Agency reported at the time.

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