One out of two married women in their 30s in Seoul have only one child or none, and nationwide the figure is one in four.
The Chosun Ilbo analyzed the 2010 Census to establish the figures. It found that 49.4 percent of women living in Seoul have just one or no child, which is markedly different from 22.3 percent in 1990. The average number of children of married women in their 30s dropped from 1.94 in 1990 to 1.65 in 2000 and 1.4 in 2010.
Nationwide figures show a similar trend, with 39.8 percent having just one child or none, compared to 18.6 percent in 1990. The average number of their children was just 1.6, much lower than 2.1 two decades ago.
"In the past, it was almost the norm to have two children," Cho Young-tae of Seoul National University said. "But that is no longer the case among women in their 30s, who are the main childbearing group. The reason the birthrate dropped considerably last year is because of a sharp fall in the number of families having second child."
◆ Cost of Education
The higher the educational background of women, the less likely they are to have more than one child. Among married women in their 30s, 43.1 percent with a bachelor's degree or higher had just one child, a noticeably bigger proportion than the 31.8 percent with just a high school diploma and 30.7 percent with just a middle school diploma.
Among those with a degree, 41.6 percent had two children.
Among those married women in their thirties with just one child, 56.5 percent were working moms and 43.5 percent were full-time housewives.
Korean parents often blame the excessive cost of private tuition for their children throughout their primary and secondary schooling.
According to the Statistics Korea's figures for 2013, W642,000 (US$1=W1,065) was spent on private tuition for each high school student on average per month, W498,500 on each middle school student, and W346,000 on elementary schoolchildren. This huge burden is forcing parents to have fewer children.
◆ More Singles
An increase in the number of women in employment, meanwhile, has pushed up the age of women at first marriage. The average age of women at first marriage was 24.7 in 1990 but had risen to 28.9 in 2010, while the proportion of single women soared.
As of 2012, 61.1 percent of 28-year-old women were unmarried, as were 43.9 percent among 30-year-olds and 37.7 percent among 31-year-olds.
Kim Han-gon at Yeungnam University, said, "Things will get worse unless there are some effective measures to boost the birthrate as more and more married women have just one child and an increasing number of women are not getting married or marry late."
He called for efforts to reduce the cost of getting married and creating a more favorable environment for women to carry on their careers after childbirth.
"Making it easy to take maternity leave and come back to work afterwards is one example," Kim said. "Otherwise it will be almost impossible to boost the birthrate."