Why South Koreans Aren't Having Kids

South Korea has one of the lowest birthrate (total fertility rate) figures in the world. The 2023 statistics from the United Nations Population Fund estimates a rate of 0.9 births per woman, with only Hong Kong lower at 0.8. The World Bank 2020 estimates had the same ranking, with South Korea at 0.81 and Hong Kong 0.77.

The fertility rate required to maintain population at its current level (replacement rate) is 2.1 births per woman, and the worldwide fertility rate is 2.3. A fertility rate of 0.9 forebodes a population crash of cataclysmic proportions which can be mitigated only by massive immigration which would have the consequence of Korea no longer being Korean. Clearly, something extraordinary is going on in South Korea. Across the demilitarised zone, North Korea has a birthrate of 1.8, still below replacement, but twice that of its ethnically identical neighbour to the south and the same as France, Ireland, Mexico, and New Zealand—and nobody holds out North Korea as a paradise for any of its inmates.

Juwon Park, Asia entertainment editor for the Associated Press, posted a long Twitter thread explaining her personal view of why South Korea’s birthrate has collapsed. Here is the entire thread collected into one document by Thread Reader.

There are lots of articles about the low birthrate in Korea. I will probably never have kids, and my reason is simple: I don’t want to go through what my parents went through. Like spending their salary on hagwon fees to nunchi game at work balancing long work hrs w child caring.

So I got a job right after college bc i was so, so determined to be financially independent from young age. My brother who went to a Korean school is now studying for a certificate exam while in college so he can apply for jobs. Another $$ out of my parents’ pocket. Inevitable.

Well, he could take on part time jobs. But it makes more sense for him to focus on the exam and pass the test so he can get a job asap. Korean companies like to hire fresh graduates and they don’t want someone beyond early 30s so his clock is ticking. Hence the parental support$.

We are not finished yet! The avg apt in Seoul costs around $700,000. So after getting thru all the hurdles, you still need to save up for the overpriced Seoul apartment. Why can’t you rent? Bc property became an investment tool. And house is a huge plus in the marriage market.

A lot of western media reports focus on misogyny and gender inequality when covering the low birthrate issue. Yes, they are valid reasons but they don’t fully explain the phenomenon. Systematic inequality, labor condition and housing cost need to be addressed more in my opinion.

Anecdotally, no one around me is saying “oh, I won’t have kids in Korea bc of misogyny” (except for some activists). Yes, that is on our mind and we are not disregarding that fact. But people are more worried about bread and butter issue.

Ppl in my generation (or at least myself) believed in the older generation’s promises that things will turn out okay if we follow certain paths and formulas, and to certain extent, I did believe in this, until i realized i can’t even afford jeonse deposit w/o my parents’ support.

Since my parents spent almost their entire income on my education, they never owned a house until 3-4 yrs ago. We moved over 20 times over the course of three decades. Many S Korean parents chose education over a house. The issue is many didn’t save up enough for their retirement

Luckily, my parents are beneficiaries of the gov pension (this was prob their insurance when they spent all their income on my education). My friends say I am lucky bc I don’t have to worry about looking after my parents financially bc they have to. Another reason for no kid.

Read the whole thing.

Korean terms used in the thread:

  • Chaebol (재벌) — Large family-owned industrial conglomerate company. Examples are Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

  • Hagwon (학원) — For-profit private educational institution (“cram school”). In 2022, 78% of South Korean grade school students attended one or more and spent an average of 7.2 hours per week in instruction.

  • Gyopo (교포/僑胞) — Member of the Korean diaspora abroad, sometimes used pejoratively implying they have lost their Korean roots.

  • Nunchi (눈치) — Art of listening and gauging the moods of others, “emotional intelligence”.

“The future belongs to those who show up.” — Mark Steyn, America Alone


An alarming statistic, but one thing stands out here, something usually seen in discussions about this topic, that immigration is necessary due to the birth shortfall. It is only necessary because of economics, most notably due to the pyramid scheme nature of most nations’ social services. Why does an economy have to proceed at its current rate or grow at all? Progress may need redefinition.


As far as economics. we are also seeing cautions about the impact of automation on productive jobs and Artificial Intelligence on bureaucratic employment. Maybe an advanced country with a strong culture, such as South Korea, is ideally placed – fewer future workers being born along with a need for fewer workers to maintain that future economy. Of course, there would be need for wise public policies to handle the transition. But the end state could be a less densely populated, better housed, happier, smaller population.

Also worth considering – what would Mr. Darwin say about people opting out of the reproduction market? Eliminating from the gene pool those who don’t want to be parents might have interesting impacts on the qualities of future generations – fewer & better? Or fewer & different?


The problem is that the Ponzi scheme is real, in place, and that workers approaching retirement do not have the individual resources to get along without it. How does one organise a society where the over-65 population outnumbers the 40s and below? Who provides the health care for this elder overhang on the demographic pyramid?

We don’t really have a model for depopulation on the scale some countries are on a trajectory to face, except the Black Death in medieval Europe and that era had a substantially different social system. Experience seems to indicate that immigration may be a short-term patch but not a solution for the long term because the descendants of immigrants generally go through the same “demographic transition” as the natives and converge on the same birthrate.

Now, the Black Death was followed by a huge boom in productivity and prosperity in Europe which some say was one of the sparks of the eventual Renaissance. The same may happen after the coming demographic collapse, but getting there without going through something like the Black Death is much to be desired.


It’s interesting how much of a self-centered individualistic mindset she’s adopting. Of course kids don’t make sense if one’s going to be self-centered and individualistic. This value system is suicidal.

The second problem is she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Kids make people happier! One can’t easily explain the taste of durian to someone who’s never tasted durian.

The third problem is short-term thinking of the newfangled elites: of course you can extract more productivity from the populace, but if the populace gets depleted, your descendants will lose their power to more farsighted elites.


This might be the crux of the problem – people are flocking to the large metropolitan centers, looking for “success”. A truly successful government policy should encourage more even distribution of “success”, outside the capital cities. Are there good examples of this now or in the past?


I once had an opportunity to ask a (more sensible than most) Congressman about whether US Social Security was indeed a Ponzi scheme – as we all know it really is!

His response was that SS was not a Ponzi scheme because … when it was set up, the drafters realized that as time went by, there would be fewer workers paying into the scheme for each retiree drawing out of the system. BUT! Those future workers would have much higher incomes because the economy would continue to grow. Thus the percentage of the worker’s income needed to support SS would not increase.

Well, it was a theory! The flaw is that the same CongressScum spent the intervening years doing everything they could to stop the (real) economy from growing, with their plethora of laws & regulations and encouragement of the growth of Big Law. The end result, in our de-industrialized import-dependent Cargo Cult economy, is that SS has indisputably become a Ponzi scheme.

How to ameliorate the situation? One could start by repealing massive numbers of economy-killing laws & regulations, and cutting Big Law down to size. This would not solve the Ponzi problem – but restoring real growth in the economy would, over time, help.


No, reading through this and all comments, it’s not “the economy, stupid”. It’s longevity. If people didn’t think/ know they were going to live on well into their children’s adulthood, they wouldn’t be concerned about the expense of launching them.


Hmmm. You have surely described the problem. This leads me to wonder: was Covid part of the attempted solution? It did, after all, thin the herd of Social Security and Medicare cost centers. If so, it was more rational but no less hidden in plain sight than most governmental failures.


I recall speculation in the very early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, before ECOMCON (remember Seven Days in May?) shut down discussion all non-approved theories, that given China is on course to be one of the first countries to fall off the demographic cliff and that their labs were known to be working with bat viruses, perhaps they had developed it to thin out their own elder population.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first democide the Red Chinese government inflicted on its own population.


Another problem is that when Social Security was enacted in 1935, it was seen as an inter-generational transfer scheme where money from current workers would be used to pay pensions for retirees. There was a “trust fund” to buffer transient imbalances, but it was expected to fund itself over the long term. But as @Hypatia noted in comment #8, in 1935 mean life expectancy in the U.S. was around 65 years, so there wouldn’t be a large population of retirees and most of them would only collect for a few years before shuffling off the mortal coil. Now that life expectancy is headed for 80, that’s fifteen years of pension after the original retirement date, not a few years. And, to compound the problem, the U.S. government has assumed the medical costs for these elders with Medicare, and (unexpectedly!) spending on geriatric care has ballooned beyond anyone’s expectations.

Second, Social Security was enacted in the middle of a deflationary depression, in a country whose only experience with inflation in living memory of most of the population was the bump after the Great War, which was seen as a consequence of extraordinary war spending and not expected to repeat. Once structural, eternal inflation kicked in around the mid-1960s, Social Security ended up with cost of living increases to payouts but strong resistance by workers and employers to increases in the taxes that funded them.

Finally, it didn’t take long for the politicians to discover that the Social Security “trust fund” could be raided for immediate spending. This was done by having Social Security hold the “trust fund” in government bonds, which meant that the asset on one side of the government was just a liability on the other. This has gone on for decades and the last time I recall anybody railing about this shell game was during the Reagan administration.

If Social Security were really a pension plan, there would be no problem at all coping with demographic changes. Simply taking the current level of worker and employee “contributions” and investing them in a classic conservative “sixty-forty” portfolio (60% stocks [say, an S&P 500 index fund], 40% investment grade bonds), the funds would have grown over time to be more than adequate to pay retirees. Further, these funds which are presently looted by the politicians and used to finance consumption would support domestic industry and help grow the economy. This would, of course never happen, because as soon as the politicians realise (in the words of Doonesbury’s Uncle Duke, “The pension fund was just sitting there”), the temptation to raid it is irresistible.


Everyone running around with their hair on fire screaming their favorite macro social theory of causality is going to get us nowhere.

We have the data and information processing technology and brains and resources to solve this in practical terms but it will take people giving up their hysteria not only about their favorite social theory but also their favorite theory about machine learning and artificial intelligence as it relates to the philosophy of science.

I’ve made my voice heard on this issue starting at least in the early 90s with my tax reform proposal. So I’ve tried a different strategy promoting the most principled model selection Criterion as a prize competition

But I’m afraid it’s going to take a 30 Years War so that people can be left alone to experiment with their own lives in their own way.


Absolutely! No question about that. Indeed, Ben Stein wrote a book back in the Jurassic about the “Never Never” land of pensions – it has never happened before in human history, and it will never happen again.

The issue is that in a “democracy”, there is no willingness to do what needs to be done. Collectively, we behave as grasshoppers, not ants. Your fear about the need for another 30 Years War to correct the situation is probably on target. There will be tears before bedtime!


The social scientists and engineers of today must not be compared to The Barbers of medieval York. After all The Barbers of medieval York did not control the central government and its theocracy via Mass media.


I liked the metaphor of Bootleggers and Baptists, and it also applies to this case:

Here, the baptists are the well-meaning liberals with the idea of supporting people in their old age, but a bit naive about human nature, misaligned incentives, and the boom-bust cycles. The bootleggers are 1) the in-government financiers who will be “managing” the money, and 2) the politicians who are always happy to get votes by selling a dream.


That supply and demand curve will get you every time – IF YOU IGNORE IT AND DO NOT TAKE CORRECTIVE ACTION.
My advise to the young in spirit, is to breakout of resource limited jurisdictions (examples: California, New York, South Korea) and relocate to richer ones (examples: Texas, Florida, Dakotas, Switzerland, etc.) so your quality of life allow the increased likelihood of growing a family, or grow a family in a challenging environment and make the noble sacrifices that parents have made for generations.


I am highly skeptical of the birth rate falling due to the cost of education or even cost of living in general. It goes without saying I would totally disregard any explanation from western media.

I think we have a bingo. What do you suppose is her definition of financially independent? Does it mean not being reliant on the government, her parents or a man? It isn’t her parents since she was very willing to have her parents pay her way well past becoming an adult. To the point of forcing them to be reliant on government assistance (edit: After reading that again, it is a pension not government assistance, but from her attitude I wouldn’t be surprised if she would put her parents in a poor house).

This is code for not being dependent on a man. Given that marriage and children are dependent relationships, it doesn’t surprise me that birth rates collapse. When life becomes all about you, children become a burden.

I can’t help but be sarcastic.
Maybe it would be best for the parents to up and die. You aren’t planning on paying them back for the sacrifice they made for you, why have them cramp your style baby. All these relationships that prevent you from doing you are unnecessary burdens of being independent. At least you don’t need no man in your life. You go girl.


Very insightful thread comments.

Since we used to hear a lot about the East Asian model of filial piety and children’s dedication to their older parents, does South Korea’s situation and these kind of self-centered individualist anecdotes support a generalization of Western culture triumphing over the more traditional values.

Separately, there is an almost painful lack of self awareness in some of the twitter thread passages

My friends say I am lucky bc I don’t have to worry about looking after my parents financially bc they have to. Another reason for no kid.

Doesn’t concluding by elimination that her position is driven by not being willing to depend on a man imply that culture is stronger than biology? Is that realistic?


See the post on 2023-08-28, “What Does a Declining Population Mean for Economic Growth?” for a discussion of the consequences of a shrinking population on the rate of innovation and economic growth in societies experiencing it.