About 80 percent of all women use contraception (compared to 2 percent in Cameroon and 83 percent in the United Kingdom). Even though the pill is a widely available over-the-counter drug in South Korea, in one study, more than 50 percent of married men said they used condoms, 2.6 percent said their wives were on the pill and 14.4 percent said either they or their wives were sterilized in operations.

Contraceptive prevalence rate: (2015) 79.6 percent: This figure is the percent of women of reproductive age (15-49) who are married or in union and are using, or whose sexual partner is using, a method of contraception. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Contraceptive use (any method, women ages 15-49): 80 percent (compared to 12 percent in Sudan and 84 percent in the United Kingdom) [Source: World Bank ]

Top method of contraception: male condom [Source: Birth Control Around the World ]

Types of birth control used (2015); female sterilization: 5.8 percent; male sterilization: 16.5 percent; pill: 2.0 percent; IUD: 12.6 percent; implant: 4.4 percent; male condom: 23.9 percent; vaginal barrier: 0.9 percent; early withdrawal: 0 percent; rhythm method: 9.7 percent; other: 2.7 percent total: 78.7 percent. [Source: Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide 2015 - the United Nations ]

Types of birth control used (1994): female sterilization: 28.7 percent; male sterilization: 11.5 percent; pill: 1.8 percent; IUD: 10.4 percent; male condom: 14.2 percent; vaginal barrier: 0 percent; early withdrawal: 0 percent; rhythm method: 7.8 percent; total: 77.2 percent. [Source: Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide 2015 - the United Nations ]

Family Planning in South Korea

Norimitsu Onishi wrote in the New York Times: “South Korea began aggressively promoting family planning in the 1960's, fearing that overpopulation would impede its economic growth. Slogans at the time warned South Koreans, who averaged six children per family, that they would become "beggars without family planning." Even in the 1980's, slogans declared that "even two are a lot." Successful family planning, coupled with changing mores, led the birthrate to drop below the ideal population replacement level of 2.1 in the 1980's and then more precipitously in the mid-1990's.Park Ha Jeong, a director general in the Health Ministry said the government committed itself to raising the birthrate only last year. "We should have started these policies in the late 1990's, but we had been focused on decreasing the birthrate for 40 years and it was hard to change directions," he said. [Source: Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times August 21, 2005]

Public and private agencies involved in family planning included the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea, and the Korea Institute of Family Planning. In the late 1980s, their activities included distribution of free birth control devices and information, classes for women on family planning methods, and the granting of special subsidies and privileges (such as low-interest housing loans) to parents who agreed to undergo sterilization. There were 502,000 South Koreans sterilized in 1984, as compared with 426,000 in the previous year. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

The 1973 Maternal and Child Health Law legalized abortion. In 1983 the government began suspending medical insurance benefits for maternal care for pregnant women with three or more children. It also denied tax deductions for education expenses to parents with two or more children. *

As in China, cultural attitudes pose problems for family planning programs. A strong preference for sons — who in Korea's Confucian value system are expected to care for their parents in old age and carry on the family name — means that parents with only daughters usually continue to have children until a son is born. The government has encouraged married couples to have only one child. This has been a prominent theme in public service advertising, which stresses "have a single child and raise it well." *

Total fertility rates (the average number of births a woman will have during her lifetime) fell from 6.1 births per female in 1960 to 4.2 in 1970, 2.8 in 1980, and 2.4 in 1984. The number of live births, recorded as 711,810 in 1978, grew to a high of 917,860 in 1982. This development stirred apprehensions among family planning experts of a new "baby boom." By 1986, however, the number of live births had declined to 806,041.

Family Planning Worker in Rural South Korea

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “At the beginning of Korea's push for economic modernization, the government launched a nationwide campaign to arrest the postwar population explosion through better family planning. Though funds and resources were severely limited at the time, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs was able to employ family planning workers in most of the country's districts. In Poksu District of Kumsan County, the district headquarters was assigned a worker named Mrs. Kim to persuade the villagers of South Valley Hamlet to limit the number of children they were having through the use of various contraceptive devices and methods. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“Mrs. Kim's job was to counteract the prevailing assumptions that old people needed children to take care of them, that families needed sons to perpetuate the lineage, that the farm needed many family members to perform the labor, and that diseases and disasters made it necessary to assume that not all children would live to adulthood. While the Seoul government did not try to put over a "one-child policy," as in China in the 1980s, it did train its family planning workers to insist that two children was an ideal number and that the gender of the children didn't matter. Though the campaign's propaganda posters depicted a happy couple with a daughter and a son, the official government line was that it was perfectly fine to have two of the same sex, whether sons or daughters.

“Mrs. Kim won prizes for her success in teaching the women of Poksu about birth control. As she toured the district giving talks to "mothers' clubs," she made manv friends and won manv women over to the government's birth control program. She persuaded them that conditions were healthier and children were more likely to survive to adulthood than before, so that two children would be sufficient. She pointed out that tractors and other new machines would make it easier for fewer people to work the family farm. She had little trouble making the point that with fewer people in the family there would be more money and resources for each one. “

Abortion in South Korea

Abortion rate (abortions per 1,000 women): 29.8 (compared to 53.7 in Russia in 2004 and 20.8 in the United States in 2003). Abortions are pretty easy to get at special women's clinics. As of 2010, they cost about US$340, a fee usually paid up front in cash up front because abortions are not covered by insurance [Source: Wikipedia, New York Times]

In South Korea, abortion is widespread but, with few exceptions, against the law. South Korea’s Mother and Child Health law bans abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, severe genetic disorders or if a woman’s or girl’s health is endangered by the pregnancy. In these limited instances, abortions must be performed within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, which means abortion is never legal under any circumstances after the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “Based on insurance data and a government-sponsored study, academic researchers have concluded that those exceptions applied to only about 4 percent of an estimated 340,000 abortions performed in 2005. But that year, only one case of illegal abortion — which, on paper, is punishable by up to a year in prison for the woman and two for the doctor — went to court, according to data that prosecutors submitted to Parliament in October” 2009. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, January 5, 2010]

Lee Ji-yoon wrote in the Korea Herald: “According to the latest data from the Health Ministry, almost 330,000 abortions were induced in 2005 and only 4.4 percent of them met the legally required conditions. While nearly 450,000 babies are born every year in Korea, doctors say the actual number of abortions would be two to three times greater than the official figure. However, the number of people who faced trial on charges of performing or receiving illegal abortions was one in 2005, five in 2006, four in 2007 and five in 2008, Rep. Jang Yoon-seok of the ruling Grand National Party noted last month during a parliamentary inspection of the Seoul High Court. [Source: Lee Ji-yoon, Korea Herald, March 30, 2010]

Choe wrote: “In addition to government policy and the economics of health care, social factors have contributed to the abortion rate. A bias for boys and against the disabled led to the widespread practice of aborting female fetuses or those with physiological defects, said Choi Sung-jae, a professor of social welfare at Seoul National University. A stigma against unmarried mothers, women’s increasing participation in the work force and the high cost of education are also seen as contributing to the trend. Dr. Choi, of the Ion Women’s Clinic, said: “We see a tendency to have one perfect child and abort the rest. We had women demanding an abortion simply because they had taken cold medicine or drunk too much while pregnant.”

In a paper titled “Abortion in South Korea: The Law and the Reality”, Woong Kyu Sung wrote: The “discrepancy between the widespread practice of abortion and Korean law” is examined through “a comparative review of relevant laws and cases and places the regulation of abortion in the context of political agendas, ideological positions, and cultural values related to abortion. Tracing the discourse on abortion from Korean independence to the present, it is revealed that the same arguments used to support abortion have also been used to oppose it. The author concludes by theorizing that a deep-seated disregard for women’s rights is behind recent abortion controversies in South Korean society.” [Source: Woong Kyu Sung, International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, October 23, 2012]

Women’s Clinics That Perform Abortions

With fewer women having babies and the government holding down medical fees, many obstetrics clinics are having a hard time. Lee Ji-yoon wrote in the Korea Herald: “Obstetrical and gynecological clinics in Korea have long struggled from old issues such as low medical fees, ceaseless legal conflicts and a shortage of specialists. Under the system, most private clinics have given up risk-bearing delivery services. But practicing cheaper gynecological treatment does not make a profit. As a result, a growing number of specialists do abortions or turn to other more favorable departments such as dermatology and plastic surgery. [Source: Lee Ji-yoon, Korea Herald, March 30, 2010]

“Currently an abortions operation fee stands at 300,000 to 400,000 won (or US$257-US$343) and has become a major earning procedure for some obstetricians. A Gynob member doctor said in an interview that he performed 20 abortions in a month while delivering 14 babies. Young doctors started sensing that they could be the nations last generation of gynecologists.”

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “Some obstetricians have switched to more lucrative skin care and obesity clinics. To those who remain, abortion — which usually costs about US$340 and is paid for in cash up front because it is not covered by insurance — has become “a source of income we find really difficult to give up,” said Dr. Kang Byong-hee, an obstetrician in Paju, north of Seoul.. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, January 5, 2010]

Trying to Reduce Abortions to Boost the Birthrate in South Korea

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “For decades, the South Korean government tended to look the other way, seeing a high birthrate as an impediment to economic growth. In the 1970s and 1980s, families with more than two children were denounced as unpatriotic, with official posters in South Korean villages driving the point home. Until the early 1990s, men could be exempted from mandatory army reserve duty if they had vasectomies. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, January 5, 2010]

“Until now, abortion had never really become a hot issue here, said Hahm In-hee, a professor of family sociology at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “The society considers it a family issue, and there is a strong taboo against discussing a family matter in public,” she said. Now, the government has concluded that this policy was too successful. South Korea’s fertility rate, which stood at 4.5 children per woman in the 1970s, had fallen to 1.19 children by 2008, one of the lowest rates in the world. The government fears that the recent financial downturn may have depressed it further, and that the country’s rapidly aging population will undercut the economy’s viability.

“In November 2009, President Lee Myung-bak called for “bold” steps to increase the nation’s birthrate. “Even if we don’t intend to hold anyone accountable for all those illegal abortions in the past, we must crack down on them from now on,” the minister for health, welfare and family affairs, Jeon Jae-hee, said.” The government has begun putting out a new message in public service announcements and posters in subways: having more babies is more patriotic. “With abortion, you are aborting the future,” says one such notice. The latest government budget calls for increased cash bonuses for families with more than two children as well as greater financial aid for single mothers in need and vouchers for couples seeking help at fertility clinics.

In September 2016, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a revision of a rule on “inappropriate medical practices” that could increase the penalty for doctors performing illegal abortions from the current one-month suspension of business to a possible maximum of 12 months. [Source: Amnesty International]

Morality-Based, Anti-Abortion Campaign in South Korea

Reporting from Seoul, Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “Displaying images of fetuses on her computer screen, Dr. Choi Anna described what happens to them during an abortion. For years, she said, she washed her hands in contrition after each one she performed. Her colleague Dr. Shim Sang-duk said that until it halted the practice in September, their Ion Women’s Clinic in Seoul did 30 abortions a month, twice the number of babies delivered there. Nearly all were illegal. “We sold our soul for money,” Dr. Choi said. “Abortion was an easy way to make money.” [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, January 5, 2010]

“Dr. Choi and Dr. Shim are hoping to force South Korea’s first serious public discussion of the ethics of the procedure. In November, they and dozens of other obstetricians held a news conference to ask for “forgiveness” for having performed illegal abortions. The group they formed, Gynob, has called on other doctors to declare whether they have performed illegal abortions. In December, they set up another organization, Pro-Life Doctors, which tries to discourage women from having abortions and runs a hot line to report clinics that perform them illegally. This month, they plan to begin reporting practitioners of such abortions to the police.

“Gynob’s morality-based campaign is unusual for South Korea, where abortion carries little of the emotional or religious significance that it does in many Western countries. But it is gaining attention here in no small part because it is coinciding with a very public reassessment of abortion by the government, which is looking for ways to reverse a decline in South Korea’s birthrate. For its part, Gynob is focusing on highlighting the hypocrisy of having a law that is almost never enforced. The group’s goal is not to resolve this by liberalizing the law but by ending abortions altogether.

“Gynob has support from Christian activists, but the group says that its motivations are not religious and that it has non-Christian members. And while some feminists have advocated for a woman’s right to have an abortion and Roman Catholics have stated their opposition to the procedure, those efforts have attracted little public attention. Abortion has yet to emerge as a political campaign issue here. But Ms. Jeon added that any crackdown should be coupled with an increase in medical fees for all doctors. The government cap on payments for medical services is thought to have encouraged doctors to perform off-the-books, and potentially far more lucrative, services like illegal abortions.

Objections to South Korea’s Anti-Abortion Campaign

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “Gynob’s anti-abortion campaign is meeting resistance, notably from other doctors. “We credit them for bringing a widespread but hushed-up social anomaly to the surface, but we can’t go along with their radical tactics,” said Baik Eun-jeong, an obstetrician who runs a clinic in Seoul’s upscale Kangnam district and speaks for the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, January 5, 2010]

“The association, which claims 4,000 members, says that a sudden crackdown that does not address the causes of abortion will only cause greater problems. “More women will now go abroad for abortion,” Dr. Baik said. “Illegal abortions will go deeper underground, causing more medical accidents. There will be more abandoned infants.” All these voices are fueling a broader public discussion of abortion as Parliament deliberates about revising the Mother and Child Health Law.

Amnesty International said in 2016: The South Korean government must withdraw proposed rules that would increase the penalty for doctors who perform illegal abortions. Decisions about their bodies and health should be made by the women and girls’ themselves, in consultation with their doctors, and not by politicians or officials. [Source: Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International Amnesty International, October 28, 2016]

“This proposal, if enacted, would only perpetuate the existing criminalization of abortion in South Korea and is an obvious regression in the fight for women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights. Decisions about their bodies and health should be made by the women and girls’ themselves, in consultation with their doctors, and not by politicians or officials,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International. “The new rules would likely have a chilling effect on doctors, undermining their ability to provide adequate medical care, information and advice to their patients, and thus putting women's and girls' health and lives at risk.” After the announcement, women’s right groups immediately condemned the government’s proposal and have been urging the government to not only refrain from increasing penalties for health care professionals, but to de-criminalize abortion overall.

Sex Ratio in South Korea

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.1 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 1.08 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.96 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.76 male(s)/female
total population: 1.01 male(s)/female (2020 estimated)
[Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

According to the CIA World Factbook: Sex ratio at birth has recently emerged as an indicator of certain kinds of sex discrimination in some countries. For instance, high sex ratios at birth in some Asian countries are now attributed to sex-selective abortion and infanticide due to a strong preference for sons. This will affect future marriage patterns and fertility.

According to the International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family: “Even as the fertility rate dropped, the sex ratio at birth showed unique features. In patriarchal societies, more male children are born. This demographic trend may be due to the societal preference for sons over daughters, which pressures couples to produce children until they have more sons than daughters. For example, the sex ratio at birth was 109.5 men per 100 women in 1970, reached a record high in 1995 of 113.2, and decreased to 109.6 in 1999. Still higher ratios have been reported from large cities such as Taegu and Pusan (Park and Cho 1995b). Moreover, the number of males born increases with the number of conceptions. From this perspective, Larson, Chung, and Gupta (1998) pointed out, even though the total fertility rate is declining, preference of male offspring and patriarchy are strong predictors of second, third, and fourth conceptions. [Source: International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

Preference for Boys in South Korea

As is true in many Asian countries, sons are more sought after than daughters in Korea. The ratio of boy births to girl births in the city of Daegu (Taegu) at one point 3 to 1 and the ratio nationwide has risen from 107.4 males for every 100 women in 1983 to 115.6 in 1993. According to Korean tradition, if a women gives birth to a girl, she keeps trying until she get a boy. This custom combined with the high number of aborted females has resulted in a strange statistic: the number girls born per 100 boys drops from 95 for the first child to 89 for the 2nd child, 54 for the 3rd child, and 48 for the 4th child.

The ratio of boys to girls peaked in 1990 at 119 to 100. In 1994, 115.4 boys were born for every 100 girls. Boys entering primary school in 1995 outnumbered girls 117 to 100. Korean elementary school teachers have traditionally liked to assign a boy and a girl to each desk but the shortage of girls has meant that boys often have to share their desks with other boys. By 2000 the boy-girl-birth ration had declined to 110 to 100. By 2005, the figure was reduced to 108 boys to 100 girls, and is now around 105 to 100 near the natural level. Demographers attribute the decline in high boy numbers to weakening of the patriarchal family as people have become more urbanized, Westernized and independent. Government intervention, including the banning sex-screening ultrasound tests, played a significant role

The BBC reported: “It is amongst the older generation that many still cling on to the preference for sons. Emily [not her real name], 26, recalls that growing up as an only child, she was always treated equally by her grandparents - until her step-brothers were born. "I only noticed the difference when my brothers came," she said. "Then I realised that they would never do stuff like the housework." "My birthday is also one day before my father's so my grandparents didn't allow me to celebrate it because as they said: 'How dare a girl celebrate a birthday before her father?'" [Source: BBC, January 13, 2017]

Ratio of Boys to Girls (100 persons) by Birth Order:
Total: 105.6 in 1980; 109.4 in 1985; 116.6 in 1990; 115.5 in 1994.
First-born: 106.0 in 1980; 106.0 in 1985; 108.6 in 1990; 106.1in 1994.
Second-born: 106.5 in 1980; 107.8 in 1985; 117.2 in 1990; 114.3 in 1994.
Third-born: 110.2 in 1980; 129.2 in 1985; 190.8 in 1990; 205.9 in 1994.
Fourth-born: 110.2 in 1980; 146.8 in 1985; 214.1 in 1990; 237.9 in 1994. [Source: Republic of Korea, Statistics Institution, 1996]

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: Ms. Kim, the family planning worker described above, “and her husband lived with Mr. Kim's parents, and the family planning worker's mother-in-law was very disappointed that both of her grandchildren were female. Mr. Kim was her eldest child, and the mother-in-law was upset that he had no son of his own to carry on the family line. She would mention that the Kim family had enjoyed a succession of strong, bright sons for many generations and that only now, with this particular daughter-in-law, had newfangled ideas about family planning been introduced to break this honorable family tradition. She did not approve of family planning and would often tell her daughter-in-law that it was wrong to limit families to two children. She would point to the Korean War and other national tragedies as signs that people should not rely on the government or economic prosperity to guarantee their security in old age. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Reasons for the Preference for Boys

In the old days the birth of a child was announced with a wreath of strung rice husk hung from the door of the house of the parents. If it was a boy red peppers were added to the wreath. Potential visitors were encouraged to stay away lest they introduce some disease or infection. Sometimes girls were named Gtsuni, or Last Girl, in hope that it would become a self-fulling prophecy and a boy would be born next. "One daughter is equal to 10 sons" was a message promoted by the South Korean government.

The preference for boys in rooted at least in part in Confucianism in which a son is needed to succeed the father as head of the family and administer sacrificial rites for family ancestors. Traditionally, women with no sons were disappointed when they gave birth to a daughter and relieved when they gave birth to a son. If a woman gave birth to two or three daughters she often felt that she let her husband's family down. "There was the idea that daughters were not regarded as part of their own family after marriage," Ms Park-Cha Okkyung, the executive director of the Korean Women's Associations United, told the BBC..

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Mrs. Kim, the family planning worker, “had trouble with women who only had daughters. She was completely unable to convince them that baby girls were just as good as baby boys. Women who had only daughters were invariably hoping to have another child, and if it turned out to be a girl they would simply try again until they finally had a son. The "boy preference" of the village women frustrated Mrs. Kim. She knew she was fighting an uphill battle against an ancient tradition. Korean parents had always expected their sons to stay near home, or at least to return after getting an education, to carry on the family. A son's success in school was regarded as a success for the whole family. A son was an emblem of the family lineage, a performer of the ancestral rituals, a supporter of parents in their old age, and an object of family pride. Clearly it was worth some sacrifice to provide for his education and give him special advantages. A daughter, on the other hand, was expected to grow up, marry, and move away to become part of her husband's family. It made sense to teach daughters how to cook, sew, and be good mothers, but the best "success" for them would be to marry away into a good family.” [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

In Mrs. Kim’s own family, here mother-in-law felt “the best insurance was having sons...and the Kim family was most unfortunate to have this stubborn daughter-in-law who thought government policies were more important than the family's needs. Mrs. Kim sincerely believed in her family planning work and thought it was good for the women of Poksu District as well as for Korea as a whole. She thought it was irresponsible for families to keep having children until they got a son. She had thought about having surgery of her own to prevent any future births. But then her mother-in-law started applying pressure and Mrs. Kim wondered if she really had "failed" in her most basic familial duty. Not long after that she conceived her third child and in due course bore a stalwart son. Only then did the Kims stop having children, though Mrs. Kim later admitted that if the baby had been a daughter they would have had to try yet a fourth time. Being a "good daughter-in-law" turned out to be the most important thing of all, even for an award-winning family planning worker.

Aborted Female Fetuses in South Korea

The introduction of ultra-sound sex screening technology to South Korea — and Asia in general — resulted in a dramatic increase in boys. What happened was that some pregnant woman use ultra-sound tests to discover if they were carrying a boy or a girl, and then had fetus aborted if the test revealed it was a girl.

According to one estimate there were around 40,000 illegal gender tests performed in South Korea ever year in the early 1990s, resulting in about 20,000 abortions of female fetuses. To reverse the trend the Planned Parenthood Federation launched an advertising campaign with a picture of a girl in a woman's womb with the slogan, "I Want to Have a Birthday Too."

In 1987 and 1995, South Korea introduced laws outlawing the use ultrasound to determine the gender of fetuses. Doctors that get caught risk having the medical licenses revoked and face a three prison sentence and a fine of US$13,000. From time to time obstetricians and midwives are arrested for performing gender tests, but no doubt the practice continues.

In 2008, Associated Press reported: “South Korea's Constitutional Court overturned a ban on doctors telling parents the gender of unborn babies, saying the country has grown out of a preference for sons and that the restriction violates parents' right to know. South Korea introduced the ban in 1987 to try to prevent abortions of female fetuses...The Constitutional Court said it was too restrictive to ban doctors from telling parents the gender of the unborn for the entire pregnancy because there was little chance of aborting fetuses older than six months due to risks for mothers. "The legislation's purpose is recognized in that it helps resolve the sex-ratio imbalance and protects the fetuses' right to life," the court said in the ruling. "But it overly limits the basic rights of parents and physicians to put a blanket ban through the latter half of pregnancy." [Source: Associated Press, July 31, 2008]

Too Many Men and Not Enough Brides, For a While Anyway

The ratio of men to women in the peak marriages ages (24-27 for woman and 27-30 for men) was 110 to 100 in 1990. If trends at that time continued it was estimated that the ratio of marriageable men to women could reach 128 to 100, which would mean there would not be enough brides for almost a fourth of all Korean men. Sociologists estimated that the bride shortage could result in mass migrations of bachelors, the importation of brides from abroad and an increase in sexual crimes, homosexuality and prostitution. The slogan "Too many grooms, not enough, it could be your problem" was spray painted on walls all over South Korea.

In 2000s, the Sex Ratio began trending towards normality. This occurred because of cultural change and not state policy as economic conditions in South Korea improved.. Female education, anti-discrimination suits and equal-rights rulings made the preference for boys seem outdated, unnecessary and undesirable [Source: The Economist, March 6, 2010]

By the mid 2010s, overall women outnumbered men, primarily the result of a rapidly ageing population. AFP reported: “According to the state data agency Statistics Korea, the number of women in 2015 will reach 25.31 million compared to 25.3 million men.” The shift is the consequence of a low birth rate, and natural longer life expectancy of women and the younger generation’s acceptance of having both boys and girls when having children. . [Source: AFP, November 24, 2014]

How Did South Korea Stop Parents Aborting Girls

South Korea was credited with being the "first Asian country to reverse the trend in rising sex ratios at birth" by the World Bank. By In 2013, the sex ratio was down to 105.3, a number comparable to major Western nations such as Canada. How did South Korea overcome its preference for boys so quickly. The BBC reported: “In an effort to reduce the incidence of selective abortions, South Korea enacted a law in 1988 making it illegal for a doctor to reveal the gender of a foetus to expectant parents. At the same time women were also becoming more educated, with many more starting to join the workforce, challenging the convention that it was the job of a man to provide for his family. It worked, but it was not for one reason alone. Rather, a combination of these factors led to the eventual gender rebalancing. [Source: BBC, January 13, 2017]

“Monica Das Gupta, research professor in sociology at the University of Maryland who has studied gender disparity across Asia, says factors other than legislation are likely to be the most significant in accounting for this change. A legal ban can "dampen things a bit", but she points out that "seven years after the law [was instituted] sex-selective abortions continued". Rather she attributes the change to the "blistering pace" of urbanisation and industrialisation in South Korea.

“While the country was predominantly a rural society there was great emphasis on male lineage and boys staying at home to inherit their fathers' land. But in just a few decades a large part of the population has moved to living in apartment blocks with people they don't know and working in factories with people they don't know, and the system has become much more impersonal, Dr Das Gupta says. Generally, attitudes towards women have improved as today's Korean men become more educated and exposed to global norms. They also inevitably mix with women across all spheres of life, in workplaces, schools or social circles, something that perhaps was not so common decades ago.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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