Korean Women Have Children Later Than Anywhere Else

      December 07, 2015 10:40

      Korean women have their first child later in their lives than women in any other country. And as more and more Korean women put off marriage until they grow older, an increasing number are opting to have no children at all due to fears of birth defects associated with late pregnancies.

      This results in a vicious cycle of an ever-declining birth rate and a growing number of older couples being unable to plan for their retirement as they must support their children.

      ◆ Mothers Get Older

      Figures from EUROSTAT, the OECD, Statistics Korea and the Japan Bureau of Statistics show that Korean women have their first child on average at 30.7 years of age, compared to Italy at 30.6 years, Japan and Spain at 30.4 years and Luxembourg at 30 years.

      Women in Bulgaria have their first child at 25.7.

      Korean women have their first child later than their counterparts in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan as well.

      A study by Statistics Korea last year showed Korean women having their first child at an average age of 30.97, up from 26.23 years in 1993. In 2013, 60.4 percent of women who had their first child that year were over 30, compared to just 11.8 percent in 1993.

      First-time mothers are also getting older faster here than in Europe. From 1995 to 2013, the average age of Korean women having their first child rose from 26.5 to 30.7, compared to 28.1 to 30.6 in Italy, 28.4 to 30.4 in Spain and 28.4 to 29.4 in the Netherlands.

      The main reason is that more Korean women postpone marriage until later in life, and most Korean women only have children when they get married.

      ◆ Better Education Delays Marriage

      Improving education of women and a growing number of women in the workforce are the main reasons behind the rise in the age of first-time mothers. Korea's scholastic achievement has been the highest in the world since the 2000s.

      In 2000, only 37 percent of Korean women in the fertile age of 25 to 34 graduated from university, which was lower than in Japan and Canada (48 percent), Finland (39 percent) and the U.S. (38 percent). But in 2014, that had risen to 68 percent, higher than in Japan (59 percent), Canada (57 percent) and the U.S. (44 percent).

      "Women with higher levels of education get good jobs and end up either delaying marriage or not getting married, or having second thoughts about children even after marriage. All this has contributed to the ever-decreasing birth rate," said Lee Sang-rim at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

      And Kwak Keum-joo at Seoul National University said, "Aside from economic issues, professional women believe that they will be unable to compete at work if they have to balance their jobs and childcare."

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