South Korea is facing a low birth rate problem as it has the lowest birth rate in the world which continues to plummet, breaking its own record every year. According to extensive BBC reporting, South Kora women do not see their future as mothers.

By 2100 South Korea’s population is estimated to be halved, currently at 52 million.

“National Emergency”

Globally, developed countries are seeing birth rates fall, but not as drastically as in South Korea. In 50 years, the number of people of working age will have halved, the number of soldiers will have shrunk by 58% and almost half the population will be over 65. This will cause difficulties in the economy, the pension system and the security of the country. The government has already declared a “national emergency”.

For nearly 20 years, successive governments have tried to provide solutions to the problem and incentives for new couples such as allowances, subsidized housing, free taxis, free hospital cover and IVF treatments, but to no avail.

So governments have had to come up with more “creative” solutions, such as hiring nannies from Southeast Asia and paying them below the minimum wage, and exempting men from military service if they have three children before they turn 30.

According to the BBC, policymakers have been accused of failing to listen to young people – especially women – about their needs.

Both men and women are entitled to one year leave during the first eight years of their child’s life. But in 2022, only 7% of new fathers used some of their leave, compared to 70% of new mothers.

Yejin’s story

Yejin decided to live alone in her 20s, defying social norms – in Korea, single life is largely considered a temporary phase in one’s life. Five years ago, she decided not to get married and not have children.

“It’s hard to meet a man in Korea who will share housework and childcare equally.”

“Women who have children alone are not judged kindly,” she added.

In 2022, only 2% of births in South Korea occurred outside marriage.

The grueling hours

Yejin has chosen to focus on her TV career, which she claims doesn’t allow her enough time to raise a child anyway. Korea’s working hours are grueling. Yejin works a 9-hour 9-6 but says she usually doesn’t leave the office until 8pm. and in addition there is also overtime. Once he gets home, he only has time to clean the house or exercise before bed.

“I love my job, it brings me so much fulfillment,” she says. “But working in South Korea is hard, you’re stuck in a perpetual cycle of work.”

Yejin says there’s also pressure to study in her spare time, to get better at her job: “Koreans have this mentality that if you don’t constantly work on improving yourself, you’ll fall behind. This fear makes us work twice as hard.”

“Sometimes on the weekends I go and do IV vitamins, just so I have enough energy to go back to work on Monday.”

“There’s an implicit pressure from companies that when we have kids, we have to quit our jobs,” she says.

Tired of life in South Korea, Yejin decided to leave for New Zealand. She woke up one morning realizing that no one was forcing her to stay in Korea. So it researched which countries ranked highly in gender equality, and New Zealand emerged as the clear winner. “It’s a place where men and women are paid equally, with better hours,” she said.