Marriages nosedived 40% over last 10 years in Korea, a factor in low birth rate

Posted on : 2024-03-04 17:19 KST Modified on : 2024-03-04 17:19 KST
Only around 190,000 couples were married in 2023 in the country, as even those who marry chose to have fewer children
(Hankyoreh file graphic)
(Hankyoreh file graphic)

Statistics show that at around 190,000 in 2023, the number of marriages in South Korea last year was down by 40% compared to 10 years ago.
Only slightly over 90,000 second births were recorded last year, marking the first time the number has fallen below 100,000.
According to the December 2023 Population Trends Survey released by Statistics Korea on Sunday, the number of marriages in 2023 was recorded as 193,673, showing a decrease of 40% from 2013, when the number was 322,807.
The marriage numbers fluctuated until 2011 (329,087) but have been on a steady decline since 2012, with 2022 marking the 11th consecutive year of decline (191,690).
Last year saw 1,983 more weddings than 2022, a year-on-year increase of 1.0%, owing to the rebound in weddings that had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, broken down on a monthly basis, the number of marriages decreased by 4.4% and 11.6% year-on-year in November (16,695) and December (17,582), respectively, signaling a downward trend.
As of 2021, 97.1% of children born in South Korea are born to married couples — an extremely high rate compared to the OECD average of 60%. This means that fluctuations in the number of marriages are directly correlated with the number of births the country sees. 
Financial issues, such as housing, seem to be the biggest obstacle to people’s ventures to marriage.
In the South Korean 2023 social trends report released by the government statistics agency, 32.7% of people in their 20s and 33.7% of people in their 30s cited “lack of funds for wedding expenses and housing” as the main reason for not tying the knot. 
Such numbers far surpass other reasons cited, such as “not feeling the need for marriage” (19.3% of people in their 20s, 14.2% of those in their 30s) and “the burden of childbirth and childcare” (11.1% of people in their 20s, 11.2% of those in their 30s).
There was also a sharp decrease in the number of couples who, after crossing the initial threshold of marriage and having their first child, chose to have more children.
The number of second and subsequent births in 2023 fell by 12,448 to 91,700 compared to 2022, making it the first time the number has fallen below 100,000.
From 153,656 in 2018, the number of second and subsequent births has plummeted by 40% in a mere five years. Twenty years ago, the number of second and subsequent births outpaced first births by a wide margin.
From 336,000 in 2000, the number of second and subsequent births was overtaken by first births in 2004, and the gap has widened every year since. Balancing work and parenting duties, career breaks, and financial burdens have contributed to the widening disparity.
The increasing average age of marriage is also complicating the situation. The average age of women giving birth in 2023, 33.6, marked the highest number in the history of South Korea’s statistics.
The country’s total fertility rate for 2023, announced on Feb. 28, reached its lowest point to date, at 0.72. This means that only 72 children have been born for every 100 couples (200 people).
By region, Seoul had the lowest rate among the 17 metropolitan cities and provinces at 0.55, followed by Busan (0.66), Incheon (0.69), and Daegu (0.70). South Jeolla Province and Sejong had the highest fertility rates, at 0.97 each.

By Ahn Tae-ho, staff reporter

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