More Koreans Have Children Later in Life

  • By Kim Sung-mo, Choi Eun-kyung

    March 29, 2021 12:59

    One out of every three women who gave birth in 2020 was over 35, Statistics Korea data show. That is an increase of more than 13 times from 1990, when it was only 2.5 percent.

    The proportion increased more steeply in recent years, surpassing 30 percent in 2018. As a result, the average age when women had their first child rose to 32.2 last year.

    When and how many children people have significantly affects their life plans. Already Koreans are getting married after the age of 30 -- men on average at 33.2 and women 30.8 -- which pushes the age of childbirth back.

    Until the mid-2000s, most women in Korea had children when they were 25 to 29 years old, and women in that age group constituted 42 percent of women who gave birth, while women between 30 and 34 accounted for 39.2 percent and 35 to 39 just 8.3 percent. That means women in their late 20s had five times more children than women in their late 30s back then.

    But a major shift occurred in 2016, when women between 35 to 39 accounted for 23.2 percent of childbirths and outnumbered those between 25 and 29, who made up 20.9 percent. Last year, 28.8 percent of all women who gave birth were in their late 30s, compared to 18.6 percent in their late 20s.

    At major hospitals in Seoul, which spearheads nationwide trends, more than half the women who give birth are now over 35. 

    Park Joong-shin at Seoul National University Hospital studied 6,378 women who gave birth during 2016 and 2020 and found that 51.6 percent were in their late 30 and 9.2 percent over 40. At Mizmedi Hospital in the capital, 38.1 percent of 13,144 women who gave birth during the same period were over 35 and 5.1 percent over 40.

    That could spell difficulties for both parents and children. It costs an estimated W400 million to educate one child until university in Korea, and many parents will have to shoulder the financial burden until they reach retirement age and could well fall into poverty (US$1=W1,131).

    Lee Sang-lim at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs said, "The life cycles of young Koreans are changing significantly. A low birthrate and aging society are problems, but having kids later in life is also a serious social problem."

    And Lee Sam-sik at Hanyang University said, "Unlike countries that have solid educational benefits for children and ample welfare programs, parents in Korea will retire just when their children require the most money for education. Having children late and also having many kids could end up making post-retirement life a living hell." 

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