VOA Special English
South Korea’s Fertility Rate Falls Again as Women Worry about Jobs


    South Korea's fertility rate, which already is the world's lowest, dropped again in 2023.

    This means that the number of babies a South Korean woman is expected to have during her reproductive years dropped from 0.78 in 2022 to 0.72 in 2023.

    Concerns about missing out on long-term jobs and the cost of raising a child are reasons given for the low rate.

    FILE - South Korean children participate in a Christmas ceremony on Nov. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
    FILE - South Korean children participate in a Christmas ceremony on Nov. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

    The fertility number is much lower than the rate of 2.1 per woman that would be needed to keep South Korea's population stable.

    In 2015, when the cost of housing and education were lower, the rate was 1.24. That means South Korea's population has been shrinking for a long time.

    The South Korean government is trying to encourage men and women to start families. Since 2018, the nation has been the only member of a group of large economies to have a rate below one. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) includes a wide group of nations such as Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand as well as Mexico and Chile.

    Among OECD nations, South Korea has the largest difference in pay between men and women. Balancing motherhood with a job is a concern for South Korean women.

    Jung Jae-hoon is a professor at Seoul Women's University. Jung noted that women have trouble moving their careers forward after taking leave to care for children.

    An example of this is Gwak Tae-hee who is 34. She is concerned about missing career opportunities if she stops working to start a family. She has been married for three years and works as a manager for a company that makes milk products.

    "Having a baby is on my list, but there's windows for promotions and I don't want to be passed over," she said.

    Gwak said she considered starting medical treatments last year that would help her have a child. However, she decided against it because she wanted to take on work projects that would help her career.

    "I hope it's not too late when I try next year or the year after," Gwak said.

    If the birth rate continues to drop, South Korea's population of about 51 million will be cut in half by 2100.

    In Seoul, the largest city and capital, the fertility rate is only 0.55.

    The nation has an election in April, and politicians have been offering ideas to make it easier for young adults to consider having children. The ideas include more housing and financial support for people thinking of having a family.

    An official at Statistics Korea said there are some people who are a couple but do not get married. In South Korea, many people see marriage as a requirement to have children, so that reduces the number of babies. But the official told Reuters that right now the group is centering its work on trying to help married people feel better about starting families.

    Politicians are worried that additional social spending has not encouraged more families. Since 2006, the government has spent about $270 billion in areas such as helping families pay for childcare, but the fertility numbers are still falling.

    South Korea, however, is not the only nation concerned about falling birth rates. China and Japan also recorded all-time low rates in 2022.

    I'm Dan Friedell.

    Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by Reuters.


    Words in This Story

    fertility rate –n. the average number of children a woman can be expected to have during her reproductive years

    stable –adj. in a state or condition that does not change too much

    encourage –v. to cause someone to want to do something; to show that people should be doing an activity or fulfilling a responsibility

    career –n. the course of a person's work life and the jobs that they do

    opportunity –n. a chance to do something like take a new job that might lead to better pay and conditions

    manager –n. a person who oversees a business activity and is responsible for it