Young children are given a lot attention by both parents. Infants and toddlers are rarely separated from their mothers. Mothers traditionally carried babies on their back in a quilt that is tied around their waist and chest. During the mosquito spraying season, at least in the 1990s when I was living in children often enjoy riding bicycles after the trucks spraying the DDT-like insecticides.

Under Confucianism, which has a strong grip on Korea’s social behavior and morality, a son is supposed to obey his father by following the dictates of filial piety; the father provides for and educates the son. Daughters obey mothers and mothers-in-law; younger siblings follow older siblings. As time has gone by more and more young people are challenging the traditional Confucian based system, adopting what is characterized as a more Westernized world view.

According to the “International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family”: “One of the most important doctrines of Confucianism was the requirement that children be dutiful to their parents. Filial piety has been the highest moral principle of the parent-child relationship and has greatly influenced the Korean family system. It guided the socialization of children enforced the moral rule that adult children should obey and serve their elderly parents and to repay them for their work as parents by looking after them for the rest of their lives. [Source: International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

On infant care, Chunghee Sarah Soh wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: Because of rapid changes in lifestyles in the last few decades, the care of infants varies widely, depending, among other things, on the class positions of a family. Generally, during the first two years children receive great deal of affection, indulgence, and nurturing from their parents. Infants seldom are separated from their mothers. They used to be carried on the mother's back but today may ride in baby carriages. Many parents sleep with their infants in the same room. Infant care practices encourage emotional dependence of the children on their parents. [Source: Chunghee Sarah Soh, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Obedience, cooperation, respect for the elders, and filial piety are the major values inculcated in a child's early years. Most children receive traditional gender role socialization from early childhood. Parents go to great lengths to provide the best education for their children, especially their sons, since parents traditionally have depended on their children in old age. Children, particularly sons, maintain a strong sense of dependence on their parents throughout adolescence and until after marriage. The differential treatment sons and daughters receive from their parents is considered a fundamental source of the gender structure in Korean society, where women are likely to be more self-reliant and individualistic than men.”

see Education, School

Children’s Health

Child survival
Under-five mortality rate (Deaths per 1000 live births): 3
Under-five deaths (Number of deaths): 1,200
Infant mortality rate (Deaths per 1000 live births): 3
Neonatal mortality rate (Deaths per 1000 live births): 2
Under-five mortality rate (Female) (Deaths per 1000 live births): 3
Under-five mortality rate (Male) (Deaths per 1000 live births): 3 [Source: UNICEF, retrieved 2021]

Percentage of surviving infants who received the third dose of DTP-containing vaccine: 98 percent
Percentage of children who received the 2nd dose of measles-containing vaccine, as per administered in the national schedule: 96 percent
Height-for-age <-2 SD (stunting): 3 percent

Maternal and newborn health
Antenatal care 4+ visits - percentage of women (aged 15-49 years) attended at least four times during pregnancy by any provider (Female): 97 percent
C-section rate - percentage of deliveries by cesarean section: 32 percent
Institutional deliveries - percentage of deliveries in a health facility: 100 percent

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]

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.

Sons and Mother Power in South Korea

In a study by Kim and Han (1996) participants were read the statement "A son is necessary to carry on the family line". Among respondents, 44.5 percent disagreed (including mild opposition and strong opposition) and 30.5 percent agreed (including mild agreement and strong agreement). The agreement rates were higher among married and under-educated women. [Source: Mee-Hae Kong, 1997]

“As presented seen below ratio of newly born boys in 1994 is almost 116 per 100 girls, and this indicates 9 percent increase rates compared to 1980. Especially this imbalence gender ratio becomes severe in the case of the third (206) and the fourth (238) born babies. In Kim and Han's study (1996), as many as 13.2 percent of women said that they would feel guilty if they did not bear a son. This feeling is more common among married women, those in their 40s and older, and the under-educated.

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]

In her study "Male Dominance and Mother Power: The Two Sides of Confucian Patriarchy in South Korea", Cho (1996) discussed the two sides of Confucian patriarchy: extreme suppression of women on the one hand and extreme idealization of motherhood and encouragement of mother's accomplishments on the other. She argues that patriarchy legitimizes mother power to be a way of accommodating women under a male-dominated social system. Without the mother-son relationship, women hardly establish their identity as autonomous individuals.

Child Rearing in Korea

Young children in Korea have traditionally been spoiled and allowed to run free and do what they please. Koreans are reluctant to discipline their children except in extreme cases. Foreigners are often disturbed by the way that parents seem to pay little attention while children run around near busy streets, oblivious to cars and trucks zooming by. I heard many stories about tragic and avoidable accident involving youngsters in Korea. Mothers sometimes beat their children. Sometimes quite hard.

As a children grow older they are taught to be obedient and cooperative. Much of this work is done by the schools. Education is highly valued. Punishments are often based more on disobedience than wrongdoing.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Parents encourage children to be dependent, obedient, and cooperative. The primary agency for socialization is gradually changing from extended family to nuclear family, thus making parents more influential than grandparents, and prohibitive norms are gradually being replaced by permissive norms. Because of the influence of the Confucian heritage, Koreans have an obsession for education: they value formal education as the single most important factor for individual success and upward mobility. Currently, Korea has six years of compulsory education, and over 93 percent of the population is literate. About 35 percent of the student-age group attended colleges and universities in 1989, one of the world's highest percentages. [Source: Choong Soon Kim, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East / Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993 |~|]

Birth Customs in Korea

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Much folk tradition exists to guide the preparation of a Korean motherto-be. There are food taboos and strict cleanliness practices. As the time for birth approaches, household members do various things to signify "openness" and free passage to ease the delivery. They wear loose clothes and leave things untied. They postpone repairs of holes in the roof and windows. They leave the doors open during the day. The expectant mother borrows clothes from a neighbor who had an easy childbirth. If she dreams of horses and tigers she may expect a boy. If she dreams of flowers she may expect a girl. There is much speculation about the gender of the child and guesswork based on parental characteristics. Most of the time there is a decided preference for a son, but if several sons have already been born to perpetuate the family name, the family may sincerely wish for a daughter. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

When the birth occurs it is customary to string a straw rope called a kumjul across the gate of the family's yard. This is to keep evil spirits away and to request privacy until the mother and family are ready to receive well-wishers. Various items are woven into the straw rope to indicate the baby's gender. In most places red peppers indicate a son and charcoal indicates a daughter. Additional items might include pieces of paper, seaweed, pine branches, and stones. Inside, family members concern themselves with the recovery of the mother, who traditionally eats soup made from boiled seaweed, a rich source of iron, and rice. Of equal concern is the survival of the baby, since Korea traditionally has suffered a high rate of infant mortality. The family tries not to tempt fate by bragging too soon about the baby or making the baby seem attractive to predatory spirits. A humorous variation on this theme is to give the child a baby name that will repel spirits, such as "Dog Dung" or "Silly One," at least for the first few weeks.

Baby Celebrations and Birthdays in Korea

Korean age is one year older than Western age. In Korea and other Asian countries age is determined from the moment of conception not from the moment of birth. The hour and year of birth are often are more important in the scheme of things than the date of birth. Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Koreans calculate their ages by saying that a person is in the first year at birth. Therefore, a newborn girl is already said to be "one," though what is really meant is that she is in her first year. And she becomes "two" not on her next birthday but on the very next New Year's Day, so that a child born in December (being "one") can actually turn "two" the next month. A better way to express it is by thinking of how many years the person has "known." A person born in the year 2000 has known that year as "one" and 2001 as "two," regardless of the time elapsed since conception or birth. It comes down to recognizing that when a Korean states his or her age in years, it is at least one year more than it would be in the West. Though Koreans traditionally shared the experience of becoming a year older at the same time on New Year's, modern Korean families regularly celebrate birthdays in the Western style with parties and dinners and congratulatory exchanges of gifts. There is even a Korean version of the song "Happy Birthday." [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

One of the most important Korean celebrations takes place on the hundredth day after a baby's birth, when the child is dressed up in traditional clothes and photographed and given his or her first spoon and set of chopsticks. The tradition dates back to a time when many children died in the first few weeks after they were born and survival to 100 days was cause for celebration. At the party for the first birthday, objects such as scissors, a boo, thread and money are placed before the child and the child’s future is determined by which object he chooses. For example if the child picks the book then he or she will be a scholar.

Clark wrote: “The baby's survival is "official" at the age of 100 days, when a ceremony called the paegil takes place. The paegil ceremony for a healthy infant is an occasion for friends and neighbors to gather to offer thanks to the Samshin Halmoni, or "grandmother spirit," who is said to watch over mothers and infants, to offer felicitations and admire the child, and to share in a feast that betokens a long life. An even more important occasion is the tol, or first birthday, when the baby again is the center of attention and engages in a little ceremony that indicates his or her future. At the tol ceremony the baby is dressed up in a full Korean child's costume, boys wearing miniature officials' caps and girls wearing makeup.” [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“The child is then seated in front of a table bearing various kinds of foods and objects such as money, notebooks, brushes, pens, thread, and toys and urged to make a selection. If the child picks up the money, it is said that he or she will be rich. If the child chooses a book, he or she will be good at school. Choosing food means a career in government. Choosing something that can be used as a weapon indicates afuture in the military. Thread indicates a long life. The choice ceremony is full of fun and laughter and is followed by feasting and the presentation of gifts to the child and envelopes of money to the parents, who no doubt face elaborate expenses not only for the party but for the upbringing and education of the child being honored.

South Korean Kids Rank Last in Happiness Survey

In a survey conducted in 2014, South Korean children were crowned the least happy kids in developed countries, with the country’s ultra-competitive education system named as the primary culprit. Reuters reported: “South Korea ranked at the bottom among 30 countries in terms of children’s satisfaction with their lives, the country’s health ministry said, followed by Romania and Poland. “The most relevant factor to the children’s life satisfaction is academic stress, followed by school violence, internet addiction, negligence and cyber violence,” the ministry said of its survey of more than 4,000 households with children younger than 18. [Source: Ju-min Park, Reuters, November 4, 2014]

“World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim, himself born in South Korea, said the educational system put a heavy burden on children, with its focus on competition and long hours of work. South Korea’s survey results were measured against those of 27 members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) grouping of 34 wealthy countries, plus Romania, Latvia and Lithuania.

“The survey, the first such exercise by the South Korean government, comes as around 600,000 students gear up for the annual college entrance exam, with places in prestigious schools and a pathway to a secure job at a top corporation on the line. More than half of children aged between 15 and 19 who are suicidal give “academic performance and college entrance” as a reason, according to National Statistics Korea.

“South Korean parents are well-known for marching their children off to cram schools until late in the evening, and beginning English tutoring in kindergarten. South Korea also made a poor showing in the survey’s child deprivation index, which includes child poverty as well as time for hobbies and school or club activities. It came in last, after Hungary and Portugal.

“World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, who was born in Seoul and moved to the United States at age five, said that South Korea’s education system exacted a heavy cost. “Students endure a substantial psychological burden from competition and long hours of work,” he said during a visit to Seoul on Tuesday.

Korean Kids Study, Study, Study

Amanda Ripley wrote in Time: “No one defends the status quo in South Korea. "All we do is study, except when we sleep," one high school boy told me, and he was not exaggerating. The typical academic schedule begins at 8 a.m. and ends sometime from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., depending on the ambition of the student. To be sure, some students opt out of this system — those who go to certain vocational high schools, for example. But most cannot transcend the relentless family and peer pressure to study until they drop from fatigue. "It breaks my heart," another teenage boy tells me, "to see my classmates compete against each other instead of helping each other." [Source: Amanda Ripley, Time, September 25, 2011]

“Parents remain the real drivers of the education rat race, and they will be the hardest to convert. Han Yoon-hee, an English teacher at Jeong Bal High School in Ilsan, a suburb of Seoul, says parental anxiety is profound. "I suggest to [my students] that they should quit hagwons and focus on school," she says. "But their parents get very nervous when they don't take classes at night. They know other students are taking classes. They have to compete with each other."

“Sometimes it's hard to know who is competing with whom — the students or their mothers. In 1964 a school entrance exam contained a question about the ingredients in taffy. But the exam inadvertently included two right answers, only one of which was counted as correct. To protest this unfairness, outraged mothers — not students — began cooking taffy outside government offices using the alternative ingredient. Eventually, the mothers won the resignation of the Vice Education Minister and the superintendent of Seoul, and several dozen students received retroactive admission offers.

“In response to the government-imposed curfew, for example, many hagwons have just put more lessons online for students to buy after hours at home. Other hagwons flout the law, continuing to operate past the curfew — sometimes in disguise. The night of the Daechi-dong raid, the inspectors I am following wait for the door to open. Then they take off their shoes and begin a brisk tour of the place. In a warren of small study rooms with low ceilings and fluorescent lights, about 40 teenagers sit at small, individual carrels. The air is stale. It is a disturbing scene, sort of like a sweatshop for children's brains.”

“By way of comparison, consider Finland, the only European country to routinely perform as well as South Korea on the test for 15-year-olds conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In Finland, public and private spending combined is less per pupil than in South Korea, and only 13 percent of Finnish students take remedial after-school lessons.”

Summer School and New Phone for a South Korean 15-Year-Old

Norimitsu Onishi wrote in the New York Times: “Just as she did during the school year, Jeong Hye Jin, 15, spent the long, sweltering summer commuting to her high school by day and to private classes in the evening. Summer school was mandatory, not for students who had fallen behind, but for those who, as she put it, ''have a chance of getting into good universities.'' Not attending was never an option for Hye Jin, who is ranked 17th out of 430 students in the 10th grade at Young Hoon High School, in a working-class neighborhood here in the capital. [Source: Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, August 27, 2005]

“A desktop calendar in her bedroom states in her bold, clear handwriting: ''Korea University Department of English Language Education. Class 2008.'' (In Korea, the year you enter college is your class year.) But if getting into what is considered the third best university is her long-term ambition, there is also something closer at hand: a new mobile phone. ''I've been asking for a new phone forever — since last year!'' Hye Jin said, raising her left index finger. Good grades had earned her mother's promise to buy her a new model that was supposed to go on sale in a matter of days. Hye Jin, who has had a mobile phone since the seventh grade, sends text messages without even glancing at the keypad. In class, she looks straight ahead, holding a pen in her right hand, punching away messages with the left on her phone under her desk. (Some boys have taken this rebelliousness further by carving holes in their desks, through which they look down at their phones.)

“A new phone, a good university — goals shared, no doubt, with an equal degree of burning intensity by her peers — set the rhythm of Hye Jin's summer. In a country where every teenager's existence seems centered on entering a top university, which can determine one's future here much more than in the United States, such conformity is to be expected.

Daily Life of a South Korean 15-Year-Old in the 2000s

Norimitsu Onishi wrote in the New York Times: “After classes recently, Hye Jin and two of her friends skipped the US$1 kimpap at a Korean restaurant and the 30-cent ice cream at McDonald's. Since they were being treated to lunch, they chose ''Italian Fresco,'' opting for pizza and pasta. On a street near the school, Hye Jin bowed to an older classmate. Hye Jin avoids being the center of attention, so she and another friend, Byun Hee Jeong, 15, sat at the ends of a booth, flanking Yoo Ji Hyun, 16. Ji Hyun is Hye Jin's best friend. ''When I met her in the seventh grade,'' Ji Hyun said of Hye Jin, ''I thought she was a goody-goody. But now I think she's open-minded and hysterical.''

“While her friends choose their summer school teachers based on competence, Hye Jin judges them on how nice they are. Her crushes on boys, including the current one, often mystify her friends. ''I've gone to see him play soccer,'' Hye Jin says. ''He's not that good. His grades aren't that good, either. But he's nice to everyone and well mannered and kindhearted.'' ''My mother says good-looking and smart guys are better,'' she added.

“A week later, at home in one of the 25-story high-rises in her housing complex, her mother, Lee Yang Ja, 40, said: ''I'd like to see my daughter with a good-looking and tall friend. They're not getting married anyway.'' It was one of the rare occasions when the whole family was home: the mother, who recently retired from her job as a bank teller; the father, Jeong Byeong Sam, 43, a union organizer at the bank; sister Yu Jeong, 12; and Hye Jin, still waiting for her new phone.

“Except on Sundays, Hye Jin usually comes home around 11 p.m., after her private evening classes. Going to sleep around midnight, she awakens at 6 a.m. ''Since everyone else is sending their kids to private classes,'' the father said, ''we can't leave her out.'' The private classes for both daughters cost about US$1,200 a month — a hefty sum that dissuades many South Koreans from having more than one or two children. ''I invest in my kids and expect to see returns reflected in good grades,'' the mother said. ''I'm not satisfied. I don't think she's trying her best.''

“After coming home at night, her mother explained, Hye Jin just watched television or updated her blog on the popular Cyworld site, where about a quarter of South Koreans have blogs. The family computer was recently moved to the living room so the mother could keep track of how her daughters were using it. ''She's too nice,'' her mother said. ''She's not persistent enough. Given the world we live in, I'm a bit concerned.''

World a South Korean 15-Year-Old Is Growing Up In

Norimitsu Onishi wrote in the New York Times: “At the same time, hers is a generation coming of age in a fast-changing society. At 15, Hye Jin has only the slightest knowledge of the military governments that ruled South Korea until the 1980's. South Korea, especially since the financial crisis and deepening democratization of the 1990's, has transformed itself into the world's most wired society and the leading pop culture exporter to the rest of Asia. Longstanding assumptions about women's roles, marriage, South Korea's relations with North Korea and the United States have been upended in half of Hye Jin's lifetime. The dizzying changes have created new possibilities, but they have also made Hye Jin's mother worry whether her daughter is tough enough for a radically different world. [Source: Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, August 27, 2005]

“The principal of Hye Jin's high school says her generation demands more freedom — as evidenced by its fight to choose its hairstyles, which are restricted by most schools. In keeping with the country's democratization, Young Hoon High School now allows students to select some of their summer school teachers; and this school, like others, no longer inculcates the fierce anti-Communist attitude that was standard until a few years ago. As for Hye Jin, she thinks North Korea is a ''poor country,'' not a ''bad country.'' Like most South Koreans of her generation, though, she is against the peninsula's reunification as too heavy a financial burden on the South. We'll become poor,'' she says.

Hye Jin's father, though, saw possibilities for his daughters in a society where women's standing has risen considerably. A change in the centuries-old family registry system in the next two years will even allow women to become the legal heads of households. ''This is the era of women,'' Mr. Jeong said. Hye Jin, who wants to become an English teacher, is aware that opportunities will be greater for her than they were for her mother. ''When we start working,'' she said, ''there will be fewer instances of men asking women to pour tea or calling you 'Miss so-and-so.'''

But work is years away, at least six or seven, half a lifetime for a 15-year-old. More pressing are Hye Jin's new phone, which was still a day or two away. She would get a new number. She would have to take new photos to replace the ones in her old phone, of herself in different poses, her family, her uncle serving his two-year military service, her dog, Min. A couple of days later, Hye Jin sent a text message with her new number. She could still type messages without glancing. ''Since the keypad is the same,'' her text message went, punctuated by emoticons expressing effusiveness and embarrassment, ''I can write the same way ;;''

Korean Couples Put Off Having Kids Because ‘It Costs Too Much'

The high cost of child-rearing sometimes deters adults from having children. Jun Kwanwoo of AFP wrote: Education-obsessed South Koreans traditionally spend small fortunes on private schools or private tuition to give their offspring an edge in a competitive society. Children sometimes file wearily out of cram schools after midnight and parents often endure family separation so their children can study overseas. Household spending on education reached an all-time high of 39.8 trillion won (US$29.5 billion) in 2008, up 7.7 percent from a year earlier despite the economic downturn. This is a country where it’s really uncomfortable to marry and raise children given the shocking cost of education, one woman said. “My friends all say that if you cannot afford to give your kids a really good education, just don’t get pregnant. Otherwise pregnancy would be a sin.” [Source: Jun Kwanwoo, AFP, April 18, 2009]

Kim Si-re and Choi Sun-young wrote in the Joongang Daily: “With the lowest birth rate in history, young people in the country are saying it is "too expensive" to have a baby. Park Min-su, a 32-year-old corporate employee, has been married for three years. He does not have a child because he "cannot afford it." His family has been pressuring Mr. Park to have a baby, since he is the only son and the eldest grandson in his family and traditionally responsible for carrying on the family link by producing a child. However, Mr. Park and his wife are firmly saying "no" to having a baby. "Let's say we had a baby. How are we going to raise him in this economy?" asked Mr. Park. "Saving for my retirement is the most urgent thing because I don't know how long I can keep my job," he added. "In order not to starve when I'm in my 80s, I have to save 400 million won (US$349,000) to 500 million won in 15 years. It would be impossible if I have a child." [Source: Kim Si-re, Choi Sun-young, Joongang Daily, September 15, 2004]

“People who decided to have a baby seem to have the same concern about the financial consequences. "My wife gave birth to my little daughter 10 days ago. The hospital cost 800,000 won. The baby products cost 500,000 won. The recovery center for my wife cost 2 million won. Paying for my house and raising my daughter at the same time seems impossible," said a message written on a Web bulletin board. "Having a baby is not a joke." Min Sang-gi, 36, who has a five-year-old boy, said that he gave up on having a second child. "Raising my boy costs about 1.6 million won a month. About 1 million is for preschool education," said Mr. Min.

“In JoongAng Ilbo's survey of 679 men and women who are married, about 50 percent said that they are not having a baby for financial reasons. The cost of education and childrearing was too burdensome, said 70 percent of the participants.

Youth Population in South Korea Drops to 10 Million, Expected to Be 5 Million in 2060

▪In 2017, Korea's youth population dropped below 10 million for the first time and is expected to keep dropping until 2060, when it will plateau at about 5 million. According to a census published by Statistics Korea, the total population stood at 51.45 million, but only 9.25 million were between nine and 24. This is the first time since the first census in 1970 that the youth population has plunged below 10 million. The decline will cause labor shortages and have a negative effect on economic growth. [Source: Yoon Ju-heon,Chosun Ilbo, April 19, 2017]

The Chosun Ilbo reported: “The youth population stood at 11.33 million in 1970 and peaked at 14.02 million in 1980. Statistics Korea predicts that it will fall to 8.52 million in 2020, 6.99 million in 2030, 6.5 million in 2040, and 5.01 million in 2060. The reason is a steadily declining birthrate. "The decline in the youth population who will enter the workforce will naturally lead to labor shortages," said Seol Dong-hoon at Chonbuk National University. "This can have a serious impact on economic growth and lead to declining vitality across all economic sectors." Meanwhile, 51.4 percent of youngsters no longer believe it is necessary to get married, while only 6.2 percent said it is a must, the census found. And 48 percent said divorce is an option. Six in 10 young people said a couple can live together without formal marriage, and a whopping 77 percent said they would be willing to marry a foreigner.

Sam-po Generation

Hooyeon Kim of Bloomberg wrote: “Many of the nation’s youth now refer to themselves as the “sam-po generation,” or the generation that’s given up on relationships, marriage and having children, because their economic prospects have become so limited. “I hate it when old people tell you how to behave based on their past,” said Baik Minki, 27, a Seoul resident who plans and manages exhibitions and theater performances. “We’ve had different hardships. The old may have suffered physically, but we suffer mentally.” [Source: Hooyeon Kim, Bloomberg, April 27, 2017]

“The youth unemployment rate stood at 9.8 percent in 2016, more than double the level two decades earlier. During the same time the average age of first marriage for men has risen to 32.8 years from 28.4 years. The birth rate stands at 1.26 per woman, near the lowest among nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “South Korea experienced radical industrial changes from a fast-growing economy to an economic slump,” said Cho Chuel, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade.

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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