Home FeaturedHighlight Why Koreans don’t Want to Have Children? South Korea’s Fertility Rate Hits Record Low

Why Koreans don’t Want to Have Children? South Korea’s Fertility Rate Hits Record Low

by Amélie Poulain

South Korea, the country with the lowest fertility rate in the world for many years, has seen its fertility rate drop to 0.72 in 2023, far lower than the basic fertility rate of 2.1 required to stabilize the population structure. The number of newborns dropped by 7.7% throughout the year. The fertility rate in the fourth quarter of last year fell to a new record low of 0.65. The number of newborns was 3,905 fewer than in the same period in 2022.

South Korea’s fertility rate has dropped to 0.72 in 2023, which means that
each woman has an average of only 0.72 children in her lifetime.
(Photo via unsplash.com)

TAIPEI, TAIWAN (Merxwire) – South Korea, the country with the lowest fertility rate in the world for many years, recently announced its fertility rate for 2023. Data show that South Korea’s fertility rate has dropped from 0.78 in 2022 to 0.72, which means that each woman will have only 0.72 children on average in her lifetime, which is far lower than the basic fertility rate of 2.1 needed to stabilize the population structure. The number of newborns in 2023 dropped by 7.7% compared with the previous year. Especially in the fourth quarter of last year, the fertility rate fell below 0.7, dropping to a new record low of 0.65. The number of newborns was 3,905 fewer than the same period in 2022, which is quite alarming.

The only countries with a global fertility rate below 0.8 in 2023 are South Korea and Ukraine in the war. Even though the government authorities have promoted many childcare subsidy programs since 2006, the results have been limited. South Korea’s fertility rate has fallen below 1 since 2018, making it the only country among the 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with a fertility rate below 1. This means that the average woman only has one child in her lifetime. The reasons for the low fertility rate are related to the high cost of childcare and the impact on women’s career development.

The first main reason why women don’t want to have children is that they worry that childcare will affect their career development. In South Korea, it is difficult for women to balance work and childcare due to long working hours. Therefore, in the first two years after the birth of a child, most mothers will quit their jobs and take care of their children full-time. This makes women very insecure and afraid that they will not be able to return to the workplace and maintain financial independence. Moreover, many companies have implicit regulations. For example, female employees must leave their jobs after giving birth or after taking parental leave, which makes women even more reluctant to have children.

The inability of men and women to divide the labor in taking care of children is also one of the important reasons. Even though Korean parents each have one year of parental leave before their child reaches the age of 8, only 7% of men apply but 70% of women apply. Therefore, there is no gender equality in childcare responsibilities. There are even terms called “pseudo-single parenthood” or “single-parent marriage.” The reason is that many fathers work late at night and get home at midnight, leaving little time to spend with their children and no time to help take care of them.

The high cost of childcare also makes families decide not to have children. Due to the fierce competition in South Korea’s society, people are afraid of not being able to compare with others, so “tutoring” is a common practice from childhood to adulthood. On average, each child spends NT$28,000 per month on extracurricular learning, making it one of the countries with the highest childcare expenditures. Parents send their children to language tuition, music lessons, art lessons, math lessons, and sports talent classes such as Taekwondo, just to give their children a head start. Although more than 90% of parents think that these fees have caused a financial burden, as many as 98% of parents still send their children to various extracurricular courses.

Seoul has the lowest fertility rate in South Korea, with an average of less than 55 children per 100 couples.
(Photo via unsplash.com)

High housing prices also deter them from having children. More than half of South Korea’s population is concentrated in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province outside Seoul, which is called the capital area. In addition, job opportunities are also concentrated in this area, so housing prices have soared even higher in recent years. Even the cost of renting a house is getting higher and higher. Some couples can only rent houses further outside the city and are even less likely to consider having children because it will increase the financial burden. Therefore, Seoul’s fertility rate has always been the lowest in South Korea, falling to 0.55 in 2023.

Why some couples decide not to have children because of the high competition in Korea, which makes children unhappy when they grow up. Students are constantly studying to get into a good school, be admitted to the civil service, or find a good job. They have no time to rest or think about the life and dreams they want. To prevent their children from experiencing such a life, they chose not to have a child.

A report by the Korea Development Institute (KDI) points out that compared with other OECD member countries, such as Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries, more than 40% of its office workers work in medium and large enterprises with more than 250 employees. Only 13.9% of South Korean workers are employed in medium-sized or above enterprises, which makes the pressure for further education and employment competition more intense, and the life of the next generation becomes increasingly difficult.

Under the influence of various factors, the South Korean Government Statistics Office estimates that the fertility rate will fall to 0.68 in 2024. The total population will continue to decrease. By the end of this century, the total population may be only half of its current size, more than half will be those over 65 years old, and both the working population and the number of people who can be drafted will be halved. Such a demographic structure will pose a serious threat to the economy and national security and has been regarded as a national emergency.

The South Korean government has invested more than 360 trillion won in various childcare subsidies since 2006 but has failed to increase the fertility rate. This has also made various political parties actively want to provide more subsidies at the housing level to attract couples willing to have children, including an Increase in the number of social housing and loans at lower interest rates. Some scholars also believe that we should start by adjusting traditional concepts, that is, changing the female-dominated concept of childcare, and moving towards equality between men and women in terms of parenting responsibilities. Reducing women’s insecurities about having children and sharing their childcare work may increase their willingness to have children.

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