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The Causes 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. Many couples desire to have a considerable number of children. However, this is not the case in South Korea, where the birth rate is very low. Married 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 an extremely low level, even below the sustainability level needed to maintain the population. South Korea faces a declining birth rate due to many young generations 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 regarding marriage, lifestyle choices, parental roles, gender role attitudes, gender equality values, and so on.

Several factors contribute to South Korea’s low birth rate, including high cost of living, including high education costs, housing costs, and demands for consumptive lifestyles, which have led many couples to postpone or decide not to have children. The demanding work culture and pressure to achieve professional success often lead couples to delay or avoid marriage and childbirth. Changes in gender roles, where women are becoming more active in their professional careers, have altered traditional views on women’s roles in the family, ultimately influencing decisions about marriage and childbirth. Other factors behind the declining birth rate, according to Kim, include an increasing number of unmarried individuals due to lack of financial resources, job security, and parents spending more than $400 per student every month.

The low birth rate in South Korea results in fewer children playing like in Indonesia, and this 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 well-being and freedom from family obligations. Additionally, 25% of single men enjoy material well-being without having children. Moreover, about 28% of men and women believe that making children happy will be difficult, citing this as a primary reason they do not want to have children.

The South Korean government has developed and implemented several programs to increase fertility rates in response to the unexpectedly low birth rates. The South Korean government announced its First Basic Plan for Low Fertility and Aging Society (2006-2010) in 2006, focusing on three areas: expanding support for childcare and education costs and expanding post-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 daycare, improving the quality of services in private childcare facilities, and expanding childcare services to meet diverse demands, building health and nutrition systems for pregnant women and children, providing economic support for couples suffering from infertility, and assistance for postpartum 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 (around $230) to 700,000 won (around $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 policies is evident in the increased number of children for the first time since 1994, from 438,000 in 2005 to 452,000 in 2006 and 497,000 in 2007, raising the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) from 1.08 in 2005 to 1.13 in 2006 and 1.26 in 2007 (Lee, 2009) in (Do & Choi, 2013). Additionally, the satisfaction rate with government policies significantly contributes to perceptions of childbirth and child-rearing among married women in Korea.

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The Causes of The Low Birth Rate in South Korea

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