Low Birthrate Issue Leads the Country to a Demographic Crisis

For the past decade, South Korea has suffered a severely low rate of childbirth. The country’s total fertility rate, or the average number of babies a woman is expected to have during their lifetimes, was reported to be at 1.24 as in 2015, far below the 2.1 persons needed to sustain the current population. Today’s post will be about reasons of decreasing childbirths, possible consequences, and comparison with Japan where it is also experiencing a similar situation.

News articles and surveys point out the following as the three major reasons for decreasing childbirths.

1. Difficulty in balancing work and family

In Korea, it has been assumed that women do most house jobs. After they have babies, women have to decide between whether to be a ‘working mom’ or a housewife. If she chooses to continue her job, she has to look for someone to take care of her baby. It is a hard decision for moms to leave their babies in nurseries; some cannot even afford such option. Also, it is not an easy request to ask her retired parents to take care of their grandchildren. Meanwhile, if the woman chooses to become a housewife, and stay with her baby full-time, she has to give up the career she has been pursuing. Furthermore, the family has to depend solely on the husband for income.


2. Economic instability and Late Marriage

According to a report from LG Economic Research Institute, the unemployment rate of youth was 9.5% last year. The number has reached the highest since 2000. Also, competition in job market is getting fiercer. Even if they get a job, some have to work under part-time contract getting low wages. As a result, Korea’s young people decide to postpone marriage until they think they become financially stable.

“It is part of a nationwide trend in South Korea that the age of first marriage is moving up and women in their early 30s have less babies,” a Statistics Korea official said.


3. Soaring Housing Costs

Soaring housing price plays as another factor of low birthrate. In order to have children, people think that they should be financially stable and own a house big enough to accommodate their family. However, the current housing cost threat people from leaving their parents, getting married and having babies. At the same time, they do not want to rely on mortgage loans.

Apparently, the government data announced last Wednesday that the population of Seoul has decreased below 10 million for the first time in the last three decades. Two major factors for such decrease were low fertility rate and people moving to other regions, unable to withstand high housing price in the city.

The continued low birthrate will not only result population decrease. It can be a big threat to growing and sustaining the size of Korea’s economy by reducing future workforce. Also, it can worsen the aging society problems because tax that working population pay will not be enough to cover welfare costs and pension.


Comparison with Japan

Japan, our neighboring country, has also been experiencing low childbirths. Its birthrate was 1.46 in 2015, slightly above Korea’s. According to a survey done by Nikkei Asian Review, reasons for such low birthrates were quite different between the two countries. Contrast to Koreans worried about economic and employment instability, Japanese choose freedom in life and career options as a major reason for not getting married. More women and men start to think pursuing career path is more important than having a family. Other than that, late marriage and economic instability were suggested as causes of low childbirths. One Japanese university student mentioned “Satori(さとり) Generation.” Satori Generation refers to people in their 20s who have never seen economic flourishment nor a wealthy society. These young generation has no desire for success and any positive expectation to its society; thus they think marriage and pregnancy are conditional.
A low birthrate might be unavoidable in this modern era. However, the latest statistics should prompt us to think about what the government and society have been doing and what policymakers need to do to prevent a demographic crisis.

In order to encourage young men and women to marry and have children, the government should be able to plan greater budget for state-initiated child care support and further education. Currently, citizens ask for increase in social benefits and subsidies on childcare. The government should also take some actions to build an equal working environment in terms of job opportunities for both genders. Business industries have to plan policies reflecting worker’s life circumstances such as expansion of maternity and paternity leave.

One American native, Iroqois, used to make decisions looking seven generations ahead. In this rapidly changing era, we should never forget the wisdom they had.


This post referred to articles from JoongAng Ilbo and The Korean Heralds.







Article by Sangeun from Korea, a Junior in Business Administration

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: