Friday, August 24, 2007

Hello Baby!

Photo and caption from the JoongAng Ilbo website: The more educated, the more babies? There seems to be a correlation between levels of education and the fertility rate. Women and babies gather yesterday at Seoul International Mother and Baby Fair at COEX. [YONHAP]

Over the last few years the birth rate in South Korea has fallen. Of course, that sets government officials in a panic because a shrinking population is bad news for a growing economy as well as for society in general. So for the last few years there has been increased pressure on Korean women to literally breed more Korean children to keep society going. I've heard of incentives such as government aid to encourage women to get pregnant and have more children.

The headlines recently report that the birth rate has turned around after a six year slump: Number of Newborns Rises After 6 Years.

The article below explains the increase by saying there is a positive correlation between a woman's education level and the number of children she has. Of course, conventional wisdom is the more education a woman has the less likely it is that she'll have a lot of children. Now the writer explains this away as "common sense."

Educated women have more babies

It is a widespread phenomenon that well-educated, successful women are more likely to stay single longer. But a recent study by a central bank- related think tank shows that once these high achievers get married, they tend to give birth to more children than women with less education.

According to a report based on research into women between 20 and 40 years of age over a five-year period beginning in 1995, women with a higher educational background also have a better chance of marrying men with similar educational levels.

“The higher the husbands’ income as a result of higher education, the more children their wives give birth to,” said the report from the Institute for Monetary and Economic Research under the Bank of Korea.

The report presented statistical proof of what ordinary Koreans might consider common sense.

For example, for each additional year of a husband’s education, the chance of his spouse giving birth increases by 0.23 percent.

However, the direct statistical correlation between the educational level of women themselves and their birthrate was not available, said Kim Woo-yeong, the researcher who conducted the study. Mathematical complications hindered obtaining exact figures.

Another noteworthy result of the study is that women who have already given birth to a son are 7.3 percent more likely to bear children again than those who previously gave birth to a daughter.

That indicates that women who deliver sons have less psychological pressure to give birth to children regardless of gender, while those with a daughter as a first child are more prudent in their attitudes, for fear of having yet another daughter, the study said.

Kim cited this as an indication that the traditional preference for having a son still prevails in modern Korean society.

According to Kim, Korea’s fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman has during her life-time, has been in a downward spiral since the late 1950s, when the post-war baby boom occurred. It tumbled to the lowest level in the world at 1.08 in 2005.

Should the downward momentum on the rate persist, Korea will see its population start to shrink around 2020.

It might very well be that, but I also see it as a difference in how Korean society works in contrast to my society. I'm arguing anecdotally 'cause I haven't looked up figures, but, in general, it seems that more education does mean less children.

However, a key difference in Korea is a woman who marries an educated man has the option to not work at all and to have a very comfortable existence. That's still very much preferred here. I do know a lot of well-to-do Korean moms who work, but they have all sorts of working mom versus stay-at-home mom drama too.

In contrast, it's lesser educated Korean women with less resources don't have the option to have a lot of children. (They marry foreigners - I'm serious, it's the rare, well-off and highly educated Korean woman I see marrying a foreigner, fooling around, okay. Marrying, no.)

The focus on education here is great, but it is also a huge money drain. Not only do parents send their kids to school, but the preference is for kids to get the kids into school abroad or into the few foreign schools that are here. If they can't then the preference is to get into the best Korean schools. There is also the hagwon culture where children keep going to school after class ends in the afternoon. They attend English classes, music classes, martial arts, etc. I've known kids to not get home until well after dark. That's expensive.

Layer on top of that just the cost of living and the hard work ethic of Koreans and I can completely see why uneducated Korean women aren't having as many children. They don't have the time or the resources. I think a lack of resources for these women is the biggest reason I believe.

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