More than 42 percent of 30-somethings in South Korea remained unmarried last year, census data showed Monday, underscoring the trend in which many young people delay or give up on marriage amid a prolonged economic slowdown.
The percentage of unmarried people in their 30s reached 42.5 percent last year, up 6.2 percentage points from 36.3 percent in 2015, the data showed.
Lived in Korea for the better part of a decade, so I can give you my input.
Those who get married are expected to have children. Children are pressured to get married and once they are, they are then pressured to have children.
Korea has many of the same issues as most first world countries who fertility rates are decreasing, but a few additional ones as well.
Stagnant wages. Wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living. This makes it very difficult for a single person (presumably the father) to be a breadwinner for their spouse and their children. Even both spouses working can still not make enough money to afford the cost of living. Furthermore if both spouses are working, there’s no one to really take care of the children.
Cost of housing. Cost of housing has exponentially grown over the last decade in Korea. Families can’t afford housing while also trying to support a family. People can’t afford housing that can accommodate a family, so they simply don’t have children.
Gender equality. Many women in Korea no longer want to be the stay at home housewife. This means they are much less reluctant to have children who will “burden” them with staying at home. They want financial independence, even if married. Without a parent to remain at home with the children, couples don’t want to have children. This is one of the reasons why a lot of women don’t want to get married. Many are aiming to become a “Gold Miss”, which is a term for a financially independent older woman.
Lack of a support network. Maternity/Paternity leave, lack of daycares, etc. If both parents want to work, there’s really no one but relatives/grandparents who can help take care of children. Not everyone has access to this and many don’t want to burden their families. Without providing a safety net, parents won’t have children.
Work – Life balance. Working 9-6 plus overtime 5-6 days a week is not uncommon in Korea. This means people who work long, hellish hours are less likely to want to go home and then take care of their children or spend money to care for their children. They would rather relax and rest and spend that money on ways to help them cope with their work life. Furthermore many men simply don’t want to go home to their spouse and children because of how exhausting their work is, so they simply make up an excuse and find a way to relax. This only creates more of a burden for the spouse at home.
Some countries have found ways to handle all 5 of these issues with varying levels of success. Korea has not and they keep trying to combat the symptoms or outright ignoring them instead of dealing with the root of the problem.
Until there’s a better support network in place in the form of daycare and company support for paternity/maternity leave, cheaper housing, an increase in wages, improving the situation for women in the workplace, and improvements in work-life balance, the fertility rate will continue to fall.
Then the real problems begin. What happens to a society that is too top heavy? Where there are too many old people who vote and set the policies while no longer contributing to the economy? The young then have to shoulder the responsibility for dealing with that issue. Its not going to be a pretty picture.