South Korea grapples with plummeting marriage rate as birth rates continue to fall

South Korea isn’t only struggling with a falling birth rate; now, the country has a falling marriage rate, as well.

The December 2023 Population Trends Survey by Statistics Korea found that the number of marriages fell by over 40% in the last 10 years. Additionally, the number of second births has fallen, in addition to the overall decline in fertility. In 2023, the number of second births fell to 91,700 — the first time it has fallen below 100,000.

In South Korea, the plummeting marriage rate likely directly affects the birth rate; in 2021, 97.1% of children in South Korea were born to married parents, which is significantly higher than the global average. So if fewer people are getting married, it’s likely that fewer children will be born.

The population in South Korea, as in numerous Asian countries, is rapidly aging as fewer young people choose to have children. And, as in Japan and China, South Korea’s fertility problems are largely influenced by decades-old population control policies. The government began trying to curb new births after the end of the Korean War, heavily promoting family planning policies; couples were pressured to be sterilized in the 1970s and 1980s.

READ: South Korea’s new plan to support families is a good start, but is it enough?

Today, much of that mindset continues, with many feeling that they have to choose between having a career and having a family. Newspaper editorials also claim that South Korea is not a good place to raise children.

One island in South Korea notably has just three children; meanwhile, the Bank of Korea had been issuing warnings that South Korea will soon become the oldest country in the world, even passing Japan, as the fertility rate is falling faster than expected. Indeed, that prediction came true in 2023, as the fertility rate fell to 0.72, and South Korea has been the only member of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) to have a rate below 1 since the year 2018.

“The number of newborns in 2023 was 230,000, which was 19,200 fewer than the year before, representing a 7.7 per cent decrease,” Lim Young-il, head of the Population Census Division at Statistics Korea, told reporters. Shin Seung-keun, a professor of fiscal policy at Tech University of Korea, warned that this will eventually have catastrophic consequences, saying, “From medical services to welfare, demand for spending will increase while fewer taxes will be collected as the number of young people decreases.”

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