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Why is South Korea Running Out of Children

woman in white crew neck t shirt and black pants sitting on the chair

South Korea recently reached its birthrate replacement level of 0.78 in 2022, and for the capital of Seoul, it is 0.52. 

For a nation to maintain its existence and current population, the birth rate must average around 2.1. 

With this level of births, a nation will retain its ability to maintain its economy. 

By the turn of the 22nd century, South Korea will have a smaller population than communist North Korea. 

In geopolitical terms, South Korea will not have the military capacity to defend itself from the North when this happens. 

The reason for the importance of the population is our societies need cohorts of people of the appropriate ages, with the young doing the lower level jobs and building up their skill sets. 

People aged from their mid-30s to late 50s have the financial resources to invest in the stock market and investments into starting new businesses and funding retirement for themselves and the older generation. 

It is normal for retirements to be paid for and financed by other people already funding the retirement for themselves, whose money goes to already retired people. 

For several reasons that will go into this article, women in South Korea are not having or choosing to opt out of motherhood and childbirth. 

It is a woman’s right not to have children, but society must understand that their culture and ability to retire may no longer be possible without a future generation.

Societies need young people to look after the elderly because 80-year-olds will not be able to look after fellow 80-year-olds, and we require more medical care and doctor appointments.

seoul signage  South Korea
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Why are South Koreans not Having Children

There are many systematic problems for why South Korea’s people choose not to have children. 

Some of these are structural problems created by the industrialisation and modernisation of South Korea after the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. 

The other reasons are cultural such as the view that people could only have children within the institution of marriage and children should only be produced when the man or the woman is in a stable career. 

Unfortunately, career stability normally takes somebody in their mid-30s or even early 40s to have a highly paid position. 

Most people in their 20s are in low-paying jobs and are advancing within the structure of the companies they have chosen to join. 

Sadly, this means that people don’t have children because they don’t want to have children, but due to circumstances never being right financially to start a family. 

For women, this means their prime childbearing years are between the ages of 18 to 35, and by the time they start a family in their mid-30s, it may already be far too late due to a woman’s limited fertility window. 

Men have longer opportunities to have children, but the sperm count does lower due to health problems and the lack of testosterone a man produces as they reach their mid-20s and mid-30s and drop by 1% each year when reaching their 40s on average.

Another factor to consider is that the age gap dating may not be possible because the 45-year-old man would not have much in common with a 25-year-old woman, leading to cultural clashes. 

It’s much better for couples to be born within their generation, like millennials dating millennials who were born between 1981 to 1996. 

There’s nothing wrong with age-gap dating as long as people know the cultural differences between generations. 

South Korea is a conservative country with a view on motherhood and the family that women should perform the majority if not all, household chores. 

Household chores can take up to 12 to 16 hours a week of a person’s time to perform these tasks adequately. 

Being in a white-collar job or a very mentally intensive career means this time is far more productive to be used in self-education. 

A person working in the tech industry can be outdated regarding industry trends and technologies within five years. 

For a person working history, they could rejoin after a 30 years absence and still be knowledgeable of that field of work. 

Different industries have different requirements, and this, in turn, puts pressure on individuals. What South Korea needs to tackle this problem is to view relationships as a partnership. 

You help me with the children, and I will help you. 

Due to its conservatism, South Korea also only has one model view of the family between a married man and a married woman with children and ignores single mothers and people of the LGBTQ+ communities. 

In 2021 only 2.1% of South Korean babies were born not within the marriage union, with the OECD average of mothers and children outside of marriage being 40% which is 16 times higher than in South Korea. 

If we look at this data, we can conclude that the South Korean problem is cultural. 

South Korea is still an honour-based society where people care about their community and what society tells them their behaviour should be. 

There is also a growing anti-child movement among South Korean women called 4B or Four nos. 

The movement draws some inspiration from the novel Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, as does South Korea’s Me Too and ‘Escape the Corset’ movements. 

The 4B movement claimed to have 4,000 members in 2019. This movement stands for no dating, no sex with men, no marriage and no children.

woman posing on sunbed at sunset  South Korea
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The government is Trying to Stop the Crisis of Low Birth

The South Korean government is very aware that they are running out of children and that their society could be extinct by the end of the 21st century. 

The government has spent over $200 billion to tackle this crisis over the last 16 years. 

But this is not working; the problems are social but also cultural and structural. 

Children become a liability when people move from working on farms to living in cities to have industrial jobs. 

Peter Zilhen, the author of The End of The World, is Just the Beginning, argues that children drain resources, time and labour when people move away from the farms and towards big cities. 

Children used to be free sources of labour to help maintain the family farm, but due to industrialisation, they became more of a problem and a luxury. 

That’s why, due to the industrialisation process so quickly for South Korea, Japan and China, within the last half of the 20th century in the past 40 years, China suffered such quick falls in birth rates and populations. 

South Korea’s population is over 50 million, which could be cut by at least 25% during the next 25 years, if not lower. 

South Korean government now know after 16 years that throwing money at the problem of low birth rates is not the solution. 

Still, they continue down this path out of desperation, unwillingness, or maybe even an inability to face this problem. 

Modern-day life promotes selfishness, a lack of willingness to serve society and is purely self-entitled and may only be culture. 

To have a loving relationship and family, according to the writer and journalist Louise Perry, requires self-sacrifice and willingness to compromise, and all these qualities are sadly lacking in modern societies in the developed world. 

Children are resource intensive, time-consuming and are net negative in the short term due to all the time they require due to being dependents on their parents for their first two decades of life. 

This lack of sacrifice and short-term sacrifice is the reason that is pulling down global birth rates of children and is incredibly incompatible with the way modern governments run their economies and societies. 

Again, the journalist Louise Perry puts forward a possible solution: rather than going to education in their late teens and 20s, young adults focus on having babies and raising families within that decade of their life. 

Due to the rising retirement age and people’s working longer in their profession, it may make more sense for people to go to university and engage in other forms of education in their 30s and possibly 40s for certain industries. 

Instead, people are spending their most fertile years when they should have children in place of work, working over 40 hours a week and not being able to pursue relationships and start families, which requires time and effort. 

The South Korean academic Chung IcK-Joong, a social welfare professor at the University of At Ewha woman’s University, stated that ‘if the environment is right and when people feel they are protected and encouraged to have children, they will have babies even if they are told not to. Cash incentives alone can’t really make much progress in boosting childbirths’.

urban area surrounded by mountain range  South Korea
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The Cut A World Without Men The women of South Korea’s 4B movement aren’t fighting the patriarchy — they’re leaving it behind entirely. Link

Britannica South Korea link

Statistics Average time spent on household chores by married people per day in South Korea in 2019, by gender link

Inter Nations A Guide to Education & International Schools in South Korea link

VisualPolitik EN How South Korea Is Running Out of Children link

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What do no Children Mean for the Global Economy?

accessories on table

Societies and civilisations need children to replace previous generations that are needed to fight wars, work in the workforce and help run the world’s consumer-led economy; without these societies, the economy will collapse.

The best way to understand this is to imagine a society like a pyramid with the elderly at the top and young people at the bottom. If the top of the pyramid becomes too large, with older adults, society and the economy will collapse.

This does not mean old people are the problem or that there is anything wrong with the elderly. Still, with societies not having a replacement population, the cost of capital will rise, and there won’t be enough people paying into the tax system to help run systems like social care.

With the Europeans, apart from France’s population with an average birth rate of 1.2%, there isn’t a generation to replace the previous generation.

Photo by Wasa Crispbread on Unsplash

What Happens with the Population, not at Replacement Levels

After World War II, most nations had a baby boom, but places like Germany or Japan did not have this baby room for several reasons.

For the Germans, it was because they started the industrialisation process five generations ago, and the Japanese reindustrialised after the Second World War within 30 years.

To understand why these nations do not repopulate and expand their birth rates, it is first necessary to understand the geographies of Germany and Japan.

In the case of Germany, 1/3 of its landmass is mountainous, meaning it is not suitable for mass settlement.

The same goes for Japan, having very little land suitable for growing families. This, combined with industrialisation, meant that people no longer had large families because the children became a net liability.

With this information, you may be thinking, why doesn’t this affect places like the UK to the same extent? The simple answer is United Kingdom started the industrialisation process during the American Revolution War from 1775 CE to 1783 CE.

In practical terms, this meant that the United Kingdom experienced the benefits and drawbacks of industrialisation within seven generations.

The same applied to Germany with five generations in Spain and Portugal within three generations. The reason, as stated above, is geographical and cultural changes industrialisation brings about population declines.

For example, China experienced the process of industrialisation, which took the British seven generations within less than one generation.

Chinese experience phenomenal success during the past decades; however, it needs to be clarified if it will last for the long term as the world has been led to believe in the popular media.

After World War II ended, China went from being conquered by the Japanese to being liberated by the Americans. The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by the atomic bomb.

The end of the wars in China, which started in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese Empire and Chairman Mao Zedong’s communist victory in 1949, led to a baby boom of over 300 million people in China. With the Chinese in such a poor country, the Communist Party was terrified of mass famine and rebellion.

During the great leap forward is estimated that between 22 million and 50 million Chinese died. In response, the Chinese government first created the one-child policy in 1979.

With this policy, the Chinese ethnic majority, the Han, was no longer at replacement levels; it required at least two births to place the child’s mother and father successfully.

Also, the problem with the Chinese culture is its favouritism of males, which means the Chinese are missing 37% of its Chinese female population, and at the moment, the country has 34.9 million shortages of women. Without women, there is no capacity to expand the population.

Also, with China experiencing its massive population boom due to the rise of better healthcare and people living longer like Japan, China is now facing a population with more adults in diapers than newborns.

According to Peter Zelhen, a geopolitical writer and geopolitical analyst, China reached its peak industrial labour force in the early 2000s, and it was government spending that put China in the lead in global manufacturing in low-end manufacturing.

Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

What Happens when there are not Enough People

During the 2020s and 2030s, the boomer generation will be retiring, and there won’t be a population to replace them in the Western world and East Asia.

Regarding the demographics, only France, the United States of America and New Zealand have a Millennial generation, and they have 20 years to start reproducing the next.

With the boomers retiring in practical terms for global finance, generating capital will be much more challenging because millennials will only be producing the kind of income to invest in the 2040s and put that extra income into investments.

This is even worse for the rest of the world because they don’t have a replacement generation. However, nations like Japan have inbuilt industrial plants where they invest their money in manufacturing products.

Japan also has the bonus of being the most technologically advanced nation on the planet, so outsourcing has become the key to Japan’s success.

The other option would be immigration, but in places like Japan, South Korea, and particularly China, opening the nation to immigration solves their demographic problems will not be happening because of cultural reasons.

Governments will also have to make hard choices during the next two decades the because there will not be enough workers paying taxes that pay for social care and people’s retirement.

The elderly may work into their 60s, but once they retire, they could be expected to live another 25 or even over 35 years due to modern medicine, which is decades of not being active but still taking money out of the system.

Modern society has become the victim of its successful governments, and people will need to start conversations about the importance of children and family.

However, with this stated, there is help in Africa having healthy demographics, same with South America, but globally United States will emerge the strongest from the coming democratic collapse.

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