South Korean marriages down by 40% in just 10 years

In 2023, country sees about 190,000 couples tying the knot, with those opting for marriage also having fewer children

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 05 March 2024 11:50 GMT
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The number of marriages recorded in South Korea saw a drop of 40 per cent over the last ten years, giving pause to the government which is already dealing with a declining birthrate.

The number of marriages recorded in 2023 was 193,673 while it was 322,807 in 2013 – which shows a decrease of 40 per cent within a decade.

According to data from the December 2023 Population Trends Survey by Statistics Korea, last year South Korea experienced significant demographic shifts which were characterised by declines in marriage and birth rates.

The new survey, however, shows that there was a slight increase in marriages in 2023 compared to 2022 and it was attributed to postponed weddings during the Covid-19 pandemic — but it revealed that the overall trend remained downward.

Another alarming trend, according to the survey, was the sharp fall in second births, which dropped to 91,700 in 2023 – the first time this number has gone below 100,000. This decline is part of a broader trend of decreasing fertility, with the number of second and subsequent births having plummeted by 40 per cent since 2018.

Financial concerns, notably the cost of wedding expenses and housing, are the primary barriers to marriage for many South Koreans in their 20s and 30s, the survey says. These economic challenges surpass other reasons for not marrying, such as a lack of interest in marriage or concerns about the burdens of childbirth and childcare.

The study disclosed that in 2022, around one-third of South Koreans aged 19 to 34 harboured favourable opinions on marriage, which was a departure from the sentiment in 2012 when over half – 56.5 per cent – of this demographic viewed marriage positively.

Breaking it down by gender, 43.8 per cent of men were in favour of marriage, in contrast to 28 per cent of women – a significant decline from the previous rates of 66.1 per cent for men and 46.9 per cent for women.

And age-wise, a significant change has occurred among Koreans in their 20s, with a diminishing inclination towards marriage. The marriage rate for those aged 25 to 29 fell from 59.5 per cent in 2012 to 36.1 per cent in 2022. In the meantime, people aged 30 to 34 displayed the strongest proclivity towards marriage, at 39.2 per cent, although this was a decrease from 54.3 percent seen ten years earlier.

In 2021, a striking 97.1 per cent of children in South Korea were born within wedlock, a rate significantly higher than the OECD average of 60 per cent, as per Hankyoreh Shimbun. This means that there is a direct correlation between marriage rates and birth rates in the country, highlighting how changes in the former directly impact the latter.

The decrease in marriages and births is further compounded by the increasing average age of marriage and childbirth, with the average age of women giving birth in 2023 reaching a historic high of 33.6 years.

This demographic shift has contributed to South Korea’s total fertility rate falling to a record low of 0.72 in 2023, indicating that only 72 children were born for every 100 couples.

This rate varies regionally, with Seoul recording the lowest fertility rate at 0.55.

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