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Think Tank Sparks Debate: Girls to Start School Early for Marriage


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South Korea’s birthrate crisis has led to a range of innovative and often controversial proposals aimed at reversing the trend. The latest suggestion from a state-backed think tank has stirred significant debate and criticism. The Korea Institute of Public Finance (KIPF) recently proposed that girls be enrolled in primary school a year earlier than boys to create a desirable age gap for future marriages. This proposal, intended to address the country’s declining birthrate, has been met with widespread condemnation from experts and the public alike.

Controversial Proposal: Girls Enter School Earlier

The KIPF report suggests that due to differences in developmental maturity between genders, having girls start school one year earlier than boys could make them more attractive to each other by the time they reach marriageable age. The logic behind this idea is that men generally mature more slowly than women, and thus, women tend to prefer marrying older men. By creating a one-year age gap in the schooling system, the report argues, this natural preference could potentially be enhanced, thereby increasing the likelihood of marriages and subsequently, births.

“Considering that the developmental level of men is slower than that of women, having females enter school one year earlier could potentially contribute to men and women finding each other more attractive when they reach the appropriate age for marriage,” the report stated.

Backlash from Experts and Public

The proposal has been met with severe backlash from various quarters. Shin Gyeong-a, a sociology professor at Hallym University, criticized the report as “ridiculous,” questioning how such a proposal could be published in a democratic country. Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition party, labeled the recommendations as “absurd,” calling for more fundamental and comprehensive measures to address the low birthrate.

Online, the criticism was even more scathing. Social media users accused the think tank of viewing people merely as reproductive tools and wasting taxpayer money on unviable solutions. Many suggested that instead of implementing such proposals, the government should focus on creating a supportive environment for raising children, including affordable housing and better work-life balance policies.

Institute’s Response

In response to the widespread criticism, the Korea Institute of Public Finance clarified that the report contained the views of individual authors and did not necessarily reflect the institute’s official stance on government measures to increase the birthrate. The institute emphasized that the proposal was one of several ideas aimed at addressing South Korea’s demographic challenges.

South Korea’s Birthrate Crisis

South Korea currently has the lowest birthrate in the world, with an average of 0.72 children per woman. In the capital, Seoul, the rate is even lower, and authorities project a significant population decline from 9.4 million in 2022 to 7.9 million by 2052. The declining birthrate has been attributed to high costs associated with raising and educating children, lack of affordable housing, and societal expectations that women should prioritize family over careers.

Government Initiatives

In addition to controversial proposals like the one from KIPF, South Korea has implemented several other initiatives to combat the declining birthrate. The Seoul metropolitan government recently announced financial incentives, including up to 1 million won for couples who have sterilization procedures reversed. Nationally, the government is considering increasing financial incentives for having children to as much as 77 million won.

Moreover, South Korea is piloting a program this summer that will bring 100 Filipino domestic helpers and childminders to the country. This initiative aims to relieve the pressure on working women, who often fear they will need to leave their jobs if they have children.

Innovative proposals

While innovative proposals are necessary to tackle South Korea’s birthrate crisis, the recent suggestion to enroll girls in primary school earlier than boys has sparked a significant debate. The backlash highlights the need for more thoughtful and comprehensive strategies that consider the societal and economic factors influencing family planning decisions. As South Korea continues to grapple with this issue, it remains to be seen which measures will effectively reverse the declining birthrate and ensure a sustainable future for the nation.

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