China Face-To-Face With Dramatic Gender Imbalance

BEIJING — One of the overlooked problems brought by China's infamous family planning policy is a crticial gender imbalance. With the latest release of the country's demographic data, Beijing has openly acknowledged the situation, as China's National Health and Family Planning Commission declared that is the country "with the most serious gender imbalance at birth in the world."

China's National Bureau of Statistics reported this week that the country has a sex ratio at birth of 115.88, meaning there are 33.76 million more males than females.

Since adopting the "One-Child policy" in 1979, China's gender-ratio disparity has spiked upward, Caixin reports. According to its latest population census data, in 1982 China's gender ratio was already over 107 at the upper limit of the United Nations natural baseline ranging between 102 to 107.

Reaching a peak of 121.2 between 2004 and 2009, China's sex disparity has since declined slightly. However the ratio is still dramatically high compared with other countries, and of course involves the world's biggest population of 1.36 billion.

The patriarchal nature of Chinese society, especially strong in the rural areas where physical labor is more imporant, has led to the country's abnormal gender imbalance, as some famiies opt for an abortion if they find out the fetus is female.

According to World Bank data, as of 2012, as many as 1.25 million girls, who should have been born, instead just "disappeared" meaning that every minute 2.4 female embryos were aborted in China. Sometimes, baby girls are also abandoned to die by their parents, Caixin reports.

To reduce this gender discrimination, Chinese authorities are now making moves to curb the blood tests aimed at identifying if the fetus is a boy or a girl. Earlier this week, a notification was issued jointly by 14 government ministries and departments with the aim of combating the illegal chain of organizations and individuals that assist couples in identifiying the fetus gender and carrying out abortions.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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