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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The "Birth Strike" in South Korea

With the Winter Olympics now over in South Korea, a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) looked around and noticed the dearth of children. Luckily for me, Todd Gardner saw the article so that I can pass it on. Now, to be sure, I've blogged several times over the years about the low birth rate that now characterizes South Korea--most recently just a few months ago. Admittedly, I pay attention to South Korea partly because my daughter was born in Seoul, but the year she was born the average woman in that country was having more than 4 children on average, rather than the current level of 1.2. 

Keep in mind that in South Korea, as in China and Japan, the rapid decline in the birth rate helped to propel the country's economic success, as I have noted before. The CBC reporter has a story about the high cost of raising children and sending them off to college. 
"Many women are worried about all the expense and this makes us not want to have babies," she [a young woman aged 22] says. It's one of the many reasons behind South Korea's so-called 'birth strike,' a term commonly used in South Korea when talking about the decision many women have made not to have children until social and economic conditions are more favourable.
Sun-hwa Shim, 38, nods. She often hears her friends talking about the "birth strike," she says. "It's just kind of a social phenomenon these days."
At a deeper level, the problem lies in old-fashioned gender relations:
Shim says women like her face a troika of obstacles that keep them from having kids. Among OECD countries, South Korea ranks third-highest for number of hours worked, first for highest gender wage gap and last in terms of time men spend caring for their children.
This is a theme that I have often repeated in this blog. The underlying reason for very low fertility (as opposed to fertility levels that hover around replacement level) is the perpetuation of gender inequalities in all aspects of life--but especially in home life--even as the economy improves.  

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