Seoul’s housing benefit to unmarried couples to spark debate on family definition

2019.10.30 13:28:33 | 2019.10.30 14:49:51

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The discussion on extending family definition to include cohabiting couples in Korea, a traditionally conservative country grappling with the lowest birth rate in the world, may pick up after the Seoul Metropolitan Government went on its way to invite unmarried couples to subscribe to its new ambitious housing program for newlyweds.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Monday announced that the city government will spend 1 trillion won ($858 billion) annually starting 2020 to support housing for newlywed couples in the capital city. Currently, couples married less than five years and earning 80 million won or less together per year are qualified to take out a loan of up to 200 million won at a low interest rate, but the city government will expand to program to couples married less than seven years with a combined maximum earning of 100 million won starting next year.

The government previously indicated the legal fix to recognize cohabiting couples a family form to combat demographic challenges in a country where more and more young people are choosing not to get married or have children, but no actions have been made.

Data released by the Statistics Korea Wednesday showed the birth rate touching new bottom for the 41th month in a row in August, while marriages also hit new historic low.

The number of newly born stopped at 24,408 in August, down 10.9 percent from a year earlier to a fresh historic low. Marriages in August fell 5.2 percent on year to new August low of 18,340 cases.

To encourage births, the Ministry of Health and Welfare last week made it available for unmarried couples who are living together for more than a year to receive state support for infertility treatment.

The sporadic benefits would likely accelerate social discussions to redefine family in Korea to lessen unnecessary wrangling.

Critics of Park have denounced his measure as populist move to boost his chance of getting elected president if he makes a bid. The generous give-out could also lead to increase in fake marriages or cohabiting, they said.

By Na Hyun-joon and Choi Mira

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