South Korea is the latest country to report a birth rate so low that it says it won’t be able to sustain its population. It’s a trend that’s affecting a number of European and Asian countries like Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Various countries have tried to offer incentives to encourage single people to date, get married and bera children, with mixed results.
Now South Korea is trying to reverse the country’s dispiriting trend of low marriage and birth rates with a class.
The BBC looked at one of the classes, what it taught and how it approached the concept of finding your soulmate. Many activities in Seoul’s Dongguk University class are done in pairs, which the students call “mandatory dating.”
“The couples are required to undertake tasks that they might face later in a real relationship such as going on affordable dates, planning a theoretical wedding and making a marriage contract covering everything from the division of household chores and styles of parenting to whose parents to visit first on holiday,” the BBC reports.
Through these exercises, couples learn to negotiate and work with different personalities and priorities. There’s even a sexual education component to help inform less experienced students. At the head of the class is Eun-Joo Lee, who as the professor also attempts to break down gender norms to challenge old cultural attitudes towards femininity and masculinity.
As Lee summed up, her goal for her students is “not to find a perfect person, but to find what kind of person suits them best.”
The class does not get at some of the systemic issues facing potential couples, like insufficient support for working mothers.
And like many places around the world, the cost of living has become so astronomical, couples fear marriage and childbearing will only put a strain on their tenuous finances. A slow economy has hindered many young adults from starting their careers and families. NPR reported last year that unemployment among those ages 15 to 29 is nearly three times the overall rate.