The number of households with three or more children is growing faster in the countryside than in the cities, giving the lie to the conventional wisdom that a higher income is likely to persuade people to have more children.
Statistics Korea on Monday said 11 out of 100 new-born babies last year were at least their parents' third. That was an increase of 3.3 percent to 51,600 last year, and the number exceeded 50,000 for the first time in a decade.
The proportion of babies who had at least two older siblings among all newborns exceeded 10 percent for the third consecutive year.
◆ Rising Rural Birthrate
In 2010, Jeju came first in terms of households with three or more children with 20.4 percent, or one out of five. South Jeolla Province came second with 17 percent, followed by North Jeolla Province (16.4 percent), North Chungcheong Province (14 percent), and South Chungcheong Province (13.6 percent). Seoul ranked lowest with 8.2 percent.
Prof. Kim Tae-heon of Korea National University of Education said the reason the number of households with two and more children is rising in the countryside is attributable to the fact that housing or child-rearing expenses are lower there than in the cities.
◆ Disparity in Child-Rearing Costs
In Seoul's affluent Gangnam, Seocho and Songpa districts, hosueholds with three or more children account for a mere 6 percent of newborns. Lee Sam-sik at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs said, "Big cities have a lot of highly educated people with high incomes, and they hesitate to have a lot of children due to child-rearing costs including education." He called for more childcare facilities to reduce the strain on parents.
Another reason is that there are more working women in the cities.
The trends are diverging. While the number of babies who are their parents' third is rising, the number who are their parents' second is dwindling for the first time in 20 years. In other words, parents tend to have either one child or many.
The 2010 census showed that 1.21 million married women between 15 and 49 said they wanted more children, up 13 percent or 144,000 from five years earlier. The proportion of women who have two children and are willing to have more babies rose 72 percent to 161,372.
"To boost the overall birthrate, the government needs to provide more benefits for households with many children," said Prof. Cho Young-tae of Seoul National University.