Pandemic Puts Paid to Marriages

  • By Kim Jung-hoon, Hwang Ji-yoon

    February 26, 2022 08:48

    Marriages in Korea fell below 200,000 last year for the first time ever as the pandemic scuppered wedding plans.

    Statistics Korea said Wednesday that only 192,509 couples tied the knot in 2021, down 10 percent from the previous year. While many couples delayed getting married due to the coronavirus pandemic, an increasing number of people simply prefer to live alone.

    One 29-year-old office worker in Seoul said, "I don't think marriage has any merits, so I have no intention of tying the knot. I think it's difficult to balance your career with marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and raising kids."


    Couples who do get married put off having children till later, and a late first child means few are willing to have another as they approach middle age.

    The average age of first-time mothers in Korea was 33.4 last year, compared to an average of 28.3 across the OECD. Some 69,000 couples had their first child five years after marriage last year, up 1.8 percent compared to 2020, while the number of children couples had less than two years after tying the knot declined 10.7 percent. 

    That trend meant an increase in childbirths among women over 35, which fell from 48.7 per 1,000 women in 2016 to 42.3 in 2020 but edged up to 43.5 last year.

    Just 26,500 children were born last year, down 4.3 percent compared to 2020 and less than half of the number of 2001. Deaths rose 4.2 percent to 317,800 last year, so the natural decline in Korea's population reached 57,300, up from 32,600 in 2020 when the first natural decline occurred.

    The population of Seoul also started to shrink as deaths in the capital outpaced births by 3,400 for the first time since the city began tallying such figures in 1981.

    Late last year, Statistics Korea estimated the country's future population at a total fertility rate of 0.82 child. It set 0.81 child as a pessimistic outlook and 0.83 as an optimistic forecast, and the worst-case scenario has come to pass.

    If the trend continues, Korea's fertility rate will fall to 0.73 child this year and decline even further to 0.68 in 2023. Noh Hyung-joon at Statistics Korea said, "The number of births is expected to keep declining, while the number of deaths will continue to rise as the population ages, so the natural population decline continues." 

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