Why is the Population of Korea Declining?

Several small universities have been closed in Korea, and others are struggling to stay open.  The Korean government is responsible for the closings.  They say the population is declining, the birth rate has gone down, and the population can’t support that many universities.  To make the universities close, the government goes around and pulls inspections on the small universities tying to find things that are wrong, and if they find anything that is in the least amiss, they give them an exorbitant fine they can’t pay.  If you can’t pay your bills, you go bankrupt, and it puts small universities out of business.

The professors and other employees at these small universities are scrambling even staying up all night for several nights in a row trying to make sure everything is in order.  If the university gets fined, first they let professors and other employees go, after that, whole departments close, and eventually, the university is dead because they can’t pay.  I have seen it happening.

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The university where I taught has not closed, but they are struggling to keep the government from finding any little nit picky thing wrong.  They have gotten rid of the English major. They have gotten rid of one of the Music majors.  They have threatened to get rid of the Theology major.  The Chinese Department hangs on by a thread. The old resident missionary who helped begin the university lives on school land bought by money donated by American churches, and the university even threatened to sell that property to get money, but they haven’t.  If they sell the land, they will be putting the old missionary out of a home. They have even changed the name of the university trying to make it so it is more acceptable to the Korean government, so they will give them money instead of fining them. I really don’t know how many departments have been effected, but I know that is why they asked me to retire–because I was the oldest professor in the English Department, and that is why many, many Korean professors have been let go, or if they were old enough, encouraged to retire. The government is doing it because they say the population can’t support that many universities. Why is the population declining?

Why do most things in the word happen?  When I began sorting through the reasons, the underlying reasons are greed and selfishness, and that greed and selfishness has caused many other things to happen that have snowballed into a declining population.  I need to take it step by step and explain how things got to where they are.

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If you have been reading my blogs about Korea, you will know that Korea is an economic miracle.  After the Korean War, they were the poorest country in the world, and they didn’t like it. They decided to bring themselves up in the world, and they have worked like crazy to become one of the richest countries in the world.  The desire for more and more money is now effecting them in other ways.

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The price of a place to live is outrageous!  You have to be rich just to own a decent sized apartment.  There was a time when tradition said that when a young couple got married in Korea, the groom’s parents gave them their first apartment, and the bride’s parents gave them all the furnishings for the apartment, but they can’t afford to do that anymore.  Young people are not being given the start in Korea they once were because the prices of apartments have become so high that people can’t buy them.  When I was in Romania, they complained because after the Romanian revolution, the price of a small two bedroom, one kitchen, one bathroom, one living room apartment in the middle of Sibiu (Romania’s 5th largest city) had sky rocketed to $30,000.  There is no way in the world you could get a place that cheap here in South Korea.  Just the deposit to rent a small one bedroom, one bathroom, one kitchen, one living room on the outskirts of Seoul is $10,000.  You could buy a second hand three bedroom, 2 bath, one living room, one kitchen trailer house in America for that $10,000. It wouldn’t be the fanciest thing you ever lived in, but it would be paid for, and it would be large by Korean standards.  They have no trailer houses in South Korea.  Many young American couples begin by buying a second hand trailer and a piece of land.  The trailer is second hand, so paid for, and they make payments on the land. When the land it paid, they can build a dream house and rent the trailer out and make money off it.  I have seen it happen again and again.  There is no hope for anything like that here in South Korea. Here in Korea, they buy an apartment that is smaller than that trailer house with no land and owe their lives to it. They have to work overtime their whole lives to pay for it.  Someone is making lots of money, but it isn’t the young couple, and the young couple is working like crazy never spending any time together. The older people who got that apartment much cheaper are taking advantage of the fact that there isn’t much space in Korea and that prices rise.  They want that big profit they have gotten from buying the apartment when it was cheaper. They aren’t going to give anyone a break.

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Koreans wait to get married until after they finish the university.  They keep trying to get into a good financial position before they get married. They aren’t like the young Americans who run off and get married thinking they can live on love.  Americans get married much younger than Koreans.  The groom may be in his early thirties, and the bride in her late twenties in Korea, if it happens at all.  One of my students at the university gave a speech about the population of young unmarried Koreans who don’t plan on marrying getting larger and larger.  They see the financial obligations in front of them and opt out of marriage.

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Their lives are easier if they just live at home with their parents and not bother getting married, so they don’t.  Some guys just act like playboys and don’t bother even getting a job and let their rich daddy foot the bill for everything getting a monthly allowance.  Others go ahead and get a job and just play with all the money they earn.  When I first came to Korea, I met a young man at church who kept wanting to treat my family and I to meals.  I was worried about how much money he was spending because he was not only buying pizzas, but steaks too for my whole family, and he would say, “Don’t worry. My dad is paying for it.”  He had already finished the university and wasn’t planning on working. He wanted to go to school in America, and he was going to let his dad foot that bill too.  I told him I thought instead of letting his dad foot all the bills, he needed to be working. His dad had already paid for his university degree and was paying for him to study extra at another private school in Seoul.  He said his dad had a business, and I told him if he was going to use the money from the business, he needed to be contributing and helping at his dad’s business. He listened, and the next thing you know, he was working at his dad’s business.  My friend, Hanul, is engaged, and her fiance has been working trying to save money so they can get married, but he has developed an interest in bikes and keeps buying expensive bikes. She is worried that they will never get married. The financial obligations of getting married are too much for him, and he wants some rewards for his money, his bikes.

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The young women have their reasons too. There is a lot of pressure put on young Korean women to be beautiful like there is for women in many countries.  These women know that once they get married, they will be expected to have babies, and so mess their figures up.  Americans get married for a completely different reason than Koreans.  Americans want to find the love of their lives and bind themselves to them, but that is not what Koreans are thinking.  The Korean women who get married might think that, but most of the guys think they are looking for a woman who will give them babies.  It is beginning to change, but the Korean mindset about marriage is that it is all about babies.  The girls opt out of marriage and want to just keep working and making money and not mess their figures up by having babies.  If a guy happens to have lots of money and the girl knows she can quit her job and stay at home and have babies, she may marry him, but if a guy doesn’t make enough money to make her into a housewife, she will keep working and not get married.

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If the women are not willing to bear babies, the population will decline.  If the men and women want to enjoy throwing their money and spoiling themselves instead of being responsible with it and building a home for a new family, the population will decline. If the older people who own everything hike the prices so high they discourage the younger generation from even trying to buy a place for a family to live, the population will decline. If the population declines, there will not be as many people going to school. The Korean government is right about that. However, they are not thinking about even more.  If there aren’t enough people to support the schools, then how about all the businesses that have been built? There will be less customers because the population is declining unless they sell everything to America which is what many countries want to do.  All the young in Koreas are learning English. The people with enough money send pregnant women to America to have their babies so the babies will be American citizens.  After the baby is born, they bring the baby back to Korea. They are Koreans, but they have American rights.  Everyone thinks America is the answer.  However, the answer in Korea is for the older people to stop hiking the prices because they discourage the young people. The population also needs to stop putting so much emphasis on what women look like so they won’t run from having babies, either that or learn to appreciate what older women look like and stop thinking all women need to look like teenagers. Korea needs to slow down on the greed and selfishness if they want their good economy to survive.



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