There are several strollers and kick boards placed in front of the daycare center.
/Photography by Lee Jae-eun
Korea, especially local regions, is aging rapidly. According to the report of population outflow of young people in non-metropolitan areas and centralization of metropolitan areas released by Korea Employment Information Service (KEIS) in 2020, 15.2% of young people in their 20s and 30s are heading to metropolitan areas. The statisctis showed that about 15% of young generation is leaving the local areas. Meanwhile, the number of people in their 20s and 30s who are living in Gyeongi-do Province increased about 10%. The confliciting figures are showing the situation that young people are decreasing in local regions. In other words, the decrease of local population and regional decline are rapidly progressing. Then, what are the problems of the population decline and centralization into the metropolitan areas, and what efforts are being made to increase the number of young people moving to local regions?
Korea is undergoing the problem of population decline
The crisis of the population cliff has become a reality due to the low birth rate and aging population in Korea, which have been problems since long before. According to the 2020 resident registration population statistics released by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety (MOIS), Korea’s resident registration population during 2020 was 51,829,023 people. This statistic was lower by about 20 thousand people from 2019. The sharp decline in births had a significant impact on the population decline. The number of babies born in 2020 reached 275,815, which has marked the lowest number of newborns since 1981. On the other hand, the number of deaths counted in 2020 was 307,764, which was higher than the birth rate. Since the number of deaths surpassed the number of newborns, a phenomenon, which is called “population dead cross,” emerged, and it has become the starting point for the natural decrease in population.
The fundamental cause of population decline is the low birth rate. Korea’s birth rate recorded 0.9 in the first quarter of 2020 and 0.84 in the second quarter, significantly lower than the global average of 2.4 or the European Union (EU) average of 1.59. What causes the country to have a lower birth rate compared to other countries? Due to COVID-19, the employment of young people has become unstable. According to a survey of new recruit plans for the first half of 2021 released by the Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI) on March 7th, 63.6% of 110 corporate respondents answered that they did not plan to hire new employees. Therefore, young people might feel an economic burden.
The high apartment price affected the birth rate as well. The statistics, which were revealed by the Korean Statistical Information Service (KOSIS), showed that Seoul recorded the lowest birth rate of 0.64 out of the other regions as the apartment price increase record the highest rate. Kim Se-hee (34), a resident of Jung-gu in Seoul, said, “It has been two years since I got married, but I cannot think about giving birth because my husband and I spend a lot of money on paying rent only depending on his single income. Therefore, unless I get a job and financial conditions are improved, I would not plan pregnancy.”
Changes in the lifestyle and life values also caused the birth rate to decline. Generation 2030, called the Generation MZ, tends to prioritize in increasing one’s life satisfaction and tries to self-actualize themselves. According to a survey, conducted by the Dongguk Post, of young people in their 20s (189 answered), 51.9% of the respondents chose “It does not matter if I get married or not” when asked if marriage is necessary. 22.2% of the respondents said, “It is better not to get married.” In addition, when asked if they are willing to give birth, 57.7% (109 people) of the respondents answered, “No.” Regarding the reason they do not want to give birth, 47.6% of the respondents answered, “Because the childless life is relaxed and comfortable,” and 42.9% answered, “Because the cost of raising children and education is burdensome.” “Because of economic instability” was followed by 26.5%.
However, the biggest problem of the low birth rate society is that as it enters an aging society, it will encounter an economic decline since the number of welfare dependents increases more rapidly than the working population. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s statistics analyzed by KERI, the proportion of people aged 65 or older in Korea increased by 4.4% annually from 2011 to 2020. Also, Korea’s elderly poverty rate is 43.3%, which is the highest rate among the other OECD countries. Eventually, the decline in the number of the economically active population due to the low birth rate will increase the economic burden on things such as pensions, health, and nursing costs. In particular, aging is dramatically deepening in local regions. According to the resident registration population statistics by MOIS, the number of babies born in Seoul, Gyeonggi-do Province, and Incheon, which are defined as metropolitan areas, in February 2021 each recorded 3,719, 6,262, and 1,208. Meanwhile, Gwangju recorded 627, Ulsan recorded 487, and Chungcheongbuk-do Province recorded 678, which showed that the birth rate in local regions is much lower than in metropolitan areas. Moreover, the number of babies born in Busan Metropolitan city, also called the nation’s second capital, was 1,192, similar to Incheon, but still showed a low rate compared to Seoul and Gyeonggi-do Province.
The young generation is moving to the metropolitan areas
The whole of Korea is under the influence of population decline, but, local regions are being severely affected by this problem. As the proportion of 20s and 30s leaving the local regions increases, the pace of aging is getting faster, and the economic growth in the local area is becoming difficult. In addition, the younger generation showed a low birth rate as they move to the metropolitan areas, which is a densely populated place. According to the 2020 Korea population movement statistics released by Statistics Korea on January 26th, the net outflow population in Daegu and Gyeonsangbuk-do Province totaled 34 thousand people. Among them, 15,619 people were 20s and 30s, which is about half of the total people. Most of them headed for the metropolitan areas. In the case of Busan, 10,172 people moved to Seoul from January to August in 2020, and 7,673 people were in their 20s and 30s. They accounted for 75.4% of the total, and this statistic indicates that young people moving to the central areas are now taking high proportions.
Lack of infrastructures and jobs is the reason young people are leaving the local regions
The revitalization of the regions is often achieved when various public institutions, universities, medical and cultural facilities are distributed to enhance the convenience of residents and ensure economic stability. However, in the case of local regions, infrastructure is not actively established, unlike metropolitan areas. According to 2020 data from the Public Data Portal, 149 out of 339 public institutions are concentrated in the capital areas, and the remaining 190 institutions are scattered in the rest of provinces. Half of the 94,659 medical institutions such as general hospitals and health centers are located in central areas. Moreover, those in their 20s and 30s chose cultural limitations as the biggest problem of poor infrastructure. In 2020, the number of cultural facilities such as museums, concert halls, and libraries in local regions was 2,994, which had been increased from 2,825 in 2019. However, according to the 2019 report from Arts Council Korea, the number of exhibition activities that were performed nationwide was 34,316, but 50.6% of them were concentrated in Seoul, Gyeonggi-do Province, and Incheon. These statistics show that activities at cultural facilities were focused on the metropolitan areas. In addition, the fact that using transportations in local regions is hard due to the long-time interval and difficulty in getting on late-night transportation lowered the influx of young people into the local regions. To know about the difficulties that people who live in local regions are experiencing, the Dongguk Post conducted a survey on 28 students living in non-metropolitan areas. Including duplicate responses, 26 students chose “The lack of living infrastructures” as the biggest problem of local regions. It was followed by “Inconvenience in transportation (21 people),” “Lack of cultural facilities (21 people),” “Lack of diverse jobs (17 people),” and “Others. (4 people)”
The lack of jobs is also a fatal problem for those in their 20s and 30s. They are now heading for the metropolitan areas since employment in local regions is not diverse. A regional employment report, which was released by Korea Employment Information Service (KEIS) in 2020, showed that about 12 thousand people moved to the capital areas for employment purposes from March to April last year. Significantly, 75.5% of the incoming population, who moved to Gyeonggi-do Province, were young people since employment conditions showed relatively less deteriorated than local regions. People in their 20s and 30s are shifting to the central areas which show the diversity in choosing jobs. Yet, major companies and small businesses are concentrated in Seoul, such as Jongno and Yeouido. Also, the IT industry, which is booming nowadays, is mainly located in a new city in the metropolitan areas such as the Pangyo Silicon Valley. Moreover, half of the total 18,920 businesses of the Inno Biz Association, where competitive companies based on technological superiority can join, are located in the central areas. Since manufacturing is the primary industry in local regions, the young people are heading for metropolitan areas to find new jobs where there are many opportunities to work in various industries.
They are the photographs of the metropolitan area (Left) and the non-metropolitan area (Right) filmed at 8.P.M..
/Photography by Lee Jae-eun, Eom Hye-rin
The extinction of local regions is showing severe figures
According to the data released by Statistics Korea in June 2019, in 2047, the productive age population (from ages 15 to 64) of 16 cities and provinces excluding Sejong-si will be decreased by 32.2% from 2017. The decrease in the productive age population is significant in Yeongnam districts, including Busan (-45.6%), Daegu (-43.4%), and Ulsan (-41.4%). It means that about four out of 10 people of the current productive age population in this area will disappear by 2047. The productive age population in Honam districts is also expected to decrease significantly, including Jeollabuk-do Province (-40.1%), Gwangju (-38.8%) and Jeollanam-do Province (-38.2%). The decrease in the productive age population in the metropolitan areas such as Seoul, Gyeonggi-do Province, and Incheon (-27.8%) is lower than the national average (-31.8%). Only the productive age population in the Sejong-si will increase by 86.1% in 2047.
The total dependency ratio by region is also expected to increase. It refers to the youth and elderly population supported by 100 people of productive age population. In Jeollanam-do Province, the total dependency ratio is expected to be the most serious, increasing from 52 people in 2017 to 121 people in 2047. Gangwon-do Province, Gyeongsang-do Province, and Jeollabuk-do Province will also have a total dependency ratio of more than 100 people. It means that the number of people who need to be supported will be larger than the number of people who support them.
The extinction of local regions is a severe problem. The local extinction risk index is a value obtained by dividing the population of women aged 20 to 39 in a region by the population aged 65 or older. If this index is less than 0.5, the province is classified as an extinction risk area. In other words, a low index means that if other variables such as the outflow or inflow of population do not occur, the community in the region will collapse and the socio-economic function will be lost in about 30 years. And eventually, the region will disappear. As a result of the Korea Employment Information Service’s survey of 228 districts, in May 2020, the number of extinction risk areas (less than 0.5) is 105 districts, accounting for 46% of the total. Among them, 82 districts are extinction risk entry step areas (less than 0.5 to more than 0.2), and 23 districts are extinction high-risk areas (less than 0.2). In 2014, 76 districts were extinction risk entry step areas, and extinction high-risk areas were three districts. It means that the situation worsened as a significant number of extinction risk entry step areas have been incorporated into extinction high-risk areas.
Many people have tried to reverse the extinction of local regions
In September 2020, Kim Seung-nam, a member of Deobooleoh Democratic Party, proposed “the Special Act on supporting areas at risk of extinction” to cope with the extinction of local regions. This special act includes many measures such as support for farmers, fostering regional specialized industries, policies for tourism activation, support for youth jobs and start-ups, and tax exemptions for small businesses. On March 11th, the association of local council chairman of Chungcheongbuk-do Province sent a proposition to the National Assembly and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety to urge the enactment of the Special Act. In addition, the Deobooleoh Democratic Party made a “Task Force for Extinction of Region” in December 2020 to seek a solution targeting regions facing the risk of extinction due to the rapid population decline. On March 3rd, this Task Force announced that it should invest 100 trillion won for five years from 2022 to discover and promote policies that comprehensively respond to the extinction of regions. They also asserted that it is necessary to support things such as houses guaranteed for a lifetime through vacant houses remodeling, allowance of five hundred thousand won per month from childbirth to employment. They are also considering policies such as hiring one hundred thousand local officials, establishing a diagnostic system within 30 minutes linked to public medical centers.
In January 2021, in Sancheong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do Province, ranked first in the “Regional Regeneration Potential Index” category of the “2020 Regional Competitiveness Index” evaluation released by Korea Rural Economic Institute. Sancheong-gun has a 0.168 local extinction risk index, which is classified as an extinction high-risk area. The reason why Sancheong-gun was able to achieve this was various support measures. Since last year, Sancheong-gun has been pushing for population growth policies such as increasing the amount of financial support from 100 thousand won to 300 thousand won for transferring households, 4 million won for marriage incentives, and 300 thousand won for university students from multi-child families. In addition, various support measures are being provided for pregnancy, childbirth, and rearing, including local projects to support the health care of mothers and newborn babies.
The city of Daegu said that if local specialized industries (50 industries such as water, medical, robots and energy) invest in Daegu, they will provide 10% additional incentives other than local investment promotion subsidies to actively induce corporate investment and create jobs. The local investment promotion subsidy is a system in which the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and local governments jointly provide financial funds for enterprises with more than one billion won investment and 10 or more new hires in the provinces.
The efforts to expand cultural services are also continuing.
Coupang, an E-commerce website, currently has distribution facilities in about 100 locations nationwide, but Rocket Delivery service (overnight delivery service) is possible in the metropolitan areas, Jeju, and some local regions. To supplement this, the Coupang Geumwang distribution facility will be completed in August 2021. It will play a role in charge of the entire Chungcheong-do Province among the nationwide distribution systems for Rocket Delivery. When this distribution facility is completed, the speed of Rocket Delivery in Chungcheong-do Province is expected to be faster. The Coupang Geumwang distribution facility is expected to contribute significantly to the development of the local economy, which shrunk due to the COVID-19. More than 500 new jobs will be created through preferential employment of local resident, and business opportunities will be provided to small companies in Chungcheong-do Province.
Hongseong-gun, in Chungcheongnam-do Province, is promoting various cultural and artistic projects to satisfy various cultural needs of the county residents and to provide opportunities to enjoy a cultural life. They plan to establish a Hongseong Culture Community Center in order to allow residents to enjoy culture in their daily life. It aims to be completed in 2022. This center will be used as a venue for culture and art for residents in connection with various cultural projects promoted by the county. In addition, Hongseong-gun operates four-county art groups to provide high-quality performances to residents, including a choir, dance troupe, orchestra, and traditional orchestra of Korea. Hongseong-gun is making efforts in various ways to offer convenient cultural services for residents.
To listen to young people’s thoughts, the Dongguk Post interviewed a student who is living in the metropolitan areas and a student who is not living in the metropolitan areas. Park Ye-jin, a student who lives in the metropolitan areas, said, “The problem of extinction of local regions must be solved for the future of Korea. Companies, governments, and citizens should make a lot of efforts to solve the problem of extinction of local regions. However, if they plan the wrong measures, young people living in the metropolitan areas may experience reverse discrimination. Therefore, when seeking measures, we should try to bring fair results for both the young people who are living in the metropolitan areas and who are not living in the metropolitan areas.” Kim Sa-rang, a student who does not live in the metropolitan areas, said, “I think the biggest reason young people do not come to the local regions is the lack of jobs. Due to the lack of opportunities to work in various fields, they choose to move to the metropolitan areas. If this inconvenience in local regions is completely resolved, it is expected that the generation 2030 will move to the local regions a lot. In addition, the problem of the birth rate in Korea will be naturally improved as the burden of marriage and childbirth is reduced because they feel sense of stability.”
Korea has currently the lowest birth rate of 0.84 among OECD countries, and this situation brings a population dead cross, which means that the number of deaths was greater than the number of births. However, a more serious problem in the era of low birth rate is that the risk of local extinction is growing rapidly as the generation 2030 moves to the metropolitan areas more and more for their own lives. The limitations of local regions felt by the people in their 20s and 30s are the lack of jobs and insufficient infrastructure. So far, various measures have emerged to solve this problem, but more young people will leave the local regions if it is not solved completely soon.
Eom Hye-rin, Lee jae-eun firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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