Korea’s Marriage Rate Dips Lower Than Japan’s

Troy Young, April 5, 2018, 9:49 a.m.

Koreans in their 20s and 30s now shun marriage to such an extent that Korea has a bigger proportion of younger singles than notoriously marriage-averse Japan. As more and more young Koreans put off marriage, concerns are mounting that the country's total fertility rate -- the average number of children born to a woman aged between 15 and 49 over her lifetime -- may fall to less than one child per woman this year.

The rate of marriage for every 1,000 people stands at 5.5 in Korea, compared to five in Japan, but Korea has seen a sharper drop over the last decade. Korea has already overtaken Japan in terms of the number of singles in their 20s and 30s, the prime marrying age. The proportion of singles in their 20s in Korea, a whopping 91.3 percent, is much higher than Japan's 79.7 percent, and among 30-somethings at 36.3 percent slightly higher than Japan's 34.8 percent.

This trend has caused Korea's total fertility rate to drop to 1.05 children last year, compared to Japan's 1.44 children. Japan's population peaked at 127 million in 2009 and is dropping by 200,000 to 300,000 a year.

In Korea, the average age of marrying women has risen above 30, making it less likely that they will have children. Korea overtook Japan in 2009 in terms of the age of women tying the knot for the first time. Now, the average stands at 30.1, 0.7 year older than in Japan.

The main culprits of this trend in Korea are the increasing number of women with higher educational backgrounds entering the workforce. Among women in their 30s, 47 percent are university graduates, compared to just 21.5 percent in Japan. That means more and more women in Korea enter the workforce later due to the time they spend in education, which in turn raises the marriage age.

The number of newborns in Korea has dropped more than twice faster than in Japan. From 1997 to 2016, the number of newborns in Japan fell by around 210,000 (18 percent) compared to 260,000 (39.2 percent) in Korea.

Insufficient provisions for young mothers in the workplace are making matters worse. The number of single women in their 30s in Seoul, where most businesses are, is far higher than in other parts of the country.

In Seoul, singles make up nearly half or 49.5 percent of women in their early 30s and 29 percent of women in their late 30s, compared to the national average of 19.2 percent.

One 35-year-old female office worker in Seoul said, "Many Korean men want their wives to work but do the household chores as well. Older women in my office who have children fail to get promoted and end up losing opportunities, which makes me think twice about getting married."

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