Age of Marriage

Can It Boost Birth Rates and Save Rural Communities?

Main image to the post Can It Boost Birth Rates and Save Rural Communities?

South Korea is facing a severe demographic crisis, with the world's lowest birth rate. Young people are citing cramped and expensive housing in Seoul, along with long commutes, as reasons for delaying marriage and starting families. The average number of expected babies for a South Korean woman during her child-bearing years has plummeted to 0.65, with projections indicating a further decline to 0.6 this year. This trend has led to dire predictions, with Statistics Korea forecasting a population decline to 36 million in 50 years, from the current level of just below 52 million.

The high cost of living in Seoul, particularly housing, is a major contributing factor to the declining birth rate. Owning a home in the capital is exceptionally expensive, offering some of the worst value for money per square foot among advanced economies. The average purchase price of housing in Seoul exceeds £467,000, with apartments being the most expensive, costing over half a million pounds on average. This has led to a high population density in Seoul, with many residents living in apartments. Despite government efforts to reverse the decline, including subsidies worth £213 billion since 2006, Seoul's birth rate remains lower than the national average.

In a bid to address the issue, South Korea is launching a high-speed rail network, the Great Train eXpress (GTX), aimed at reducing travel time from Seoul to its outskirts. The project, costing £78.8 billion, is expected to provide six lines linking Seoul to several outlying areas by 2035. The first section of the line, inaugurated by President Yoon Suk Yeol, opened in March this year, reducing commute time from Suseo to Dongtan from 80 minutes by bus to 19 minutes. Once fully operational, the GTX will be one of the fastest underground systems in the world, with trains traveling at speeds of 112 mph.

The government believes that the GTX will encourage young people to consider homes further from Seoul, reducing commute times and providing more leisure time after work. However, some experts argue that the GTX could exacerbate the decline of rural South Korea by attracting more people to the already overcrowded capital. They advocate for similar public infrastructure investments in other regions to revitalize rural towns and prevent further population drain.

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May 21, 2023 | 05:09