The Cause of The Low Birth Rate in South Korea

Having children is a dream for most newlywed couples as well as those who have been married for a long time. Not a few couples desire to have children in a considerable number. However, this does not apply in South Korea, where the birth rate in the country is very low. Couples in South Korea have fewer children compared to other countries.

South Korea is one of the countries with the lowest birth rates in the world. In recent years, the birth rate in South Korea has reached a very low level, even below the sustainability rate needed to maintain the population size. South Korea is facing a decline in birth rates because many young generations are distancing themselves from marriage and having children due to a lack of decent job opportunities, high housing prices, and expensive private education costs. This low birth rate has become a serious problem for South Korea, as it can have negative impacts on its economy, demographics, and social system. Couples in South Korea consider having children not as an obligation but as a personal choice.

South Korea has experienced a dramatic decline in birth rates since the 1960s, when six children were born per woman, and now Korea is known as one of the countries with the lowest birth rates in the world. Furthermore, the declining birth rate is also related to values and attitudes towards marriage, lifestyle choices, parental roles, gender role attitudes, gender equality values, and so on.

There are several factors causing South Korea to have a low birth rate, including high cost of living, including high education costs, housing costs, and demands of consumptive lifestyles, which have led many couples to postpone or decide not to have children. The culture of hard work and pressure to achieve professional success often leads couples to postpone or avoid marriage and childbirth. Changes in gender roles, where women are increasingly active in their professional careers, have changed traditional views of women’s roles in the family, ultimately affecting decisions about marriage and childbirth. Other factors behind the declining birth rate, according to Kim, are the increasing number of unmarried people due to lack of financial resources, job security, and parents’ expenses of over $400 per student per month.

The low birth rate in South Korea results in few children seen playing like in Indonesia, which is also one of the reasons why couples in South Korea are less inclined to have children. In Korea, many unmarried men and women do not want children because they want to enjoy a life oriented towards personal and/or couple’s well-being and free from family obligations. Additionally, 25% of single men enjoy material welfare without having children. Moreover, about 28% of men and women believe that making children happy would be difficult, citing this as the main reason they do not want to have children.

The South Korean government has developed and implemented several programs to increase fertility rates to cope with the unexpectedly low birth rates. The South Korean government announced the First Basic Plan for Low Fertility and Aging Society (2006-2010) in 2006, which focuses on three areas: Expanding support for child care and education costs, and expanding after-school education to alleviate household financial burdens. Providing various incentives for families with children; strengthening support for adopting families; expanding public childcare facilities and workplace childcare facilities, improving the quality of services in private childcare facilities, and expanding childcare services to meet diverse demands, building a health and nutrition system for pregnant women and children, providing economic support for couples suffering from infertility, and assistance for postnatal and newborn care for poor families (Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2012).

To address the declining birth rate, the government announced an increase in monthly allowances for parents with children under one year old. “Starting now, that amount will double, from 300,000 won (about $230) to 700,000 (about $529). Another increase in 2024 will result in 1 million won, or about $770 per month. The average monthly salary in South Korea was about $3,400 as of December 2022,” according to the World Economic Forum report.

The impact of the Korean government’s policy is that the number of children increased for the first time since 1994 from 438,000 in 2005 to 452,000 in 2006 and 497,000 in 2007, increasing the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) from 1.08 in 2005 to 1.13 in 2006 and 1.26 in 2007 (Lee, 2009) cited in (Do & Choi, 2013). Additionally, the satisfaction rate with government policies significantly contributes to perceptions of childbirth and childcare among married women in Korea.

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