South Korea get di lowest birth rate for world – so why dem no dey born pikin?


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South Korea get di lowest birth rate for di world

  • Author, Jean Mackenzie
  • Role, Seoul correspondent

For one rainy Tuesday afternoon, Yejin just dey cook lunch for her friends for her house wia she dey live alone just outside of Seoul and she dey happily single.

As dem dey chop, one of dem comot her phone show one old and popular meme of dinosaur wey say “Be careful, no allow yourself go extinct like us.”

30 year old television producer, Yejin say, “e dey funny but dark because we know say we fit dey cause our own extinction.”

She and her friends no get any plans to born pikin. Dem dey part of growing community of women wey no wan get pikin.

South Korea get di lowest birth rate for di world, and e don continue to dey drop as dem dey beat dia own record, year afta year.

Numbers wey comot on Wednesday show say e drop by anoda 8% for 2023, to 0.7.

For population to dey steady, di number of children woman dey expected for woman get for dia life na number 2:1.

If tins continue like dis, Korea population dey expected to drop by half by di year 2100.

A ‘national emergency’

All ova di world, di birth rates of developed kontris don dey fall but none of dem don fall reach South Korea.

In 50 years time, di number of working age pipo go don drop by half, di pipo wey go fit join di kontri compulsory military service go don reduce by 58% and almost half of di kontri population go old pass 65 years.

Dis one go affect di kontri economy, pension and security. dis one don make di politicians call am, “national emergency”.

For almost 20 years, goment afta goment don dey troway money on top dis palava. As at now dem don put 379.8 trillion KRW ($286bn; £226bn) to solve am.

Dem dey shower couples wey get pikin wit money from monthly allowance to subsidy for house rent and free taxis. Dem dey even pay for hospital bills and IVF treatment, but na for only married pipo sha.

But all those money dem dey dash pipo so no work, wey make politicians begin reason more “creative” solutions, like to hire nanny from South East Asia, come pay dem lower pass minimum wage. Dem also stop men wey don get three children before dem turn 30 from serving for di military service.

Even wit all dis, policymakers don chop accuse say dem no dey listen to young pipo – especially women – to hear dia needs. So in di past year, we waka round di kontri dey follow women tok about why dem no wan born pikin.

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Yeijin say she don hook inside ‘perpetual cycle of work’

Wen Yejin decide say she go live alone for di middle of her 20s, she bin go against socal norms. Single living for Korea dey considered as temporary phase for pesin life

Den five years ago, she decide say she no go marry and she no go born children.

She tok say, “E dey hard to find beta man to date for Korea, pesin wey go follow do housework and take care of pikin equally. And women wey get pikin alone dey suffer judgement.”

For 2022, na only 2% of di pikin wey dem born for South Korea bin dey outside wedlock.

‘A perpetual cycle of work’

Instead, Yejin don choose to focus for her career for television wey she say no dey give her enough time to raise pikin. Korean work hours dey long like mad.

Yejin dey work 9-6 (wey be how Koreans dey call 9-5) but she normally no dey comot office till 8pm and on top dat one overtime come dey inside. By di time she reach house, di only time wey she get na to clean house or exercise before she go sleep.

She say, “I love my job, e dey give me fulfilment but working for Korea dey hard, you dey inside continuous cycle of work.”

Yejin say pressure also dey to study so you go fit dey better at work. “Koreans get dis mindset say if you no continue dey ginger for self-improvement, you go dey left behind and you go turn failure. Na dat fear dey make us work double.”

She add say, for weekend, like na normal tin, “I go get IV drip so I go fit get enough energy to go work on Monday”.

She also get di same fear of all di women for dis tori say if she take time off to born pikin, she fit no go get opportunity to go back work again.

She say, “pressure dey from companies say wen we get pikin, we must to leave our work”. Dis na sometin wey Yejin don see korokoro do her sister and two of her favourite news presenters.

‘I sabi too much’

One 28-year-old woman, wey bin work for HR say she don see wia dem force pipo to leave dia job or some wey dem deny promotion afta dem take maternity leave, and dis bin dey enough to convince her not to born pikin.

For Korea, both men and women dey entitled to one year leave during di first eight years of dia pikin life. But for 2022, only 7% of new fathers use some of dia leave, compared to 70% of new mothers.

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Stella says her lifestyle makes it impossible to have children

Korean women na di most educated women for di OECD kontris but na dem get di worst gender pay gap and many of dia women dey unemplyedwen compared to men.

Researchers say dis one na proof of di options wey dem get, either to get family or keep dia career, however more of dem dey decide say dem go work.

Stella Shin dey teach English to five year olds for afterschool club.

She dey do awww say, “look at dis pikin dem, dem dey so cute”. But Stella no get any pikin of her own at 39 years and she say no be on purpose.

She don marry for six years, and both her and her husband bin wan born pikin but dem busy wit work and dey jolly dia life till time waka pass dem. Now she don accept say di way she dey live her life, make am “impossible”.

“Mama dem need to resign from work to fit take care of dia pikin full time for di first two years and e go depress me wella. I love my career and taking care of myself.”

For spare time, Stella dey go K-pop dance classes with group of older women.

Dis expectation say women go take off two to three years from work wen dem get pikin dey common among women. Wen I ask Stella weda she fit share dat kain leave with her husband, she gimme dat kain side eye wey be like “you no know your pipo?”

She say, “na like wen I make am wash plates and e dey always mess up small, I no fit trust am”.

Even if she wan give up work or combine family and work, she no go fit do am cos cost of housing too high, na wetin she add tok.

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Di cost of housing don make di mata of pikin dme no make sense

More dan half of Korean population dey live in or around di capital, Seoul, wey be wia most of di opportunities dey, dis don put plenty pressure on apartments and resources.

Stella and her husband say gradually, life push dem further and further away from di capital, enta neighbouring provinces, and dem no still fit buy dia own place.

Seoul birth rate don drop to 0.59 wey be di lowest for kontri.

Apart from housing, di price for private education dey look would be parents for eye like dis.

From di age of four, pikin dem dey go plenti expensive extracurricular classes from maths and English to music and Taekwondo.

Dis kain tin dey popular sotay if you say your pikin no go do am, e be like you want your pikin to fail because Korea dey competitive like mad. So, for dat reason, na di most expensive kontri to raise pikin.

One 2022 study show say 2% of parents no dey pay for private lesson, as 94% odas say na financial wahala.

As teacher for one of dis cram schools, Stella sabi dis wahala well-well. She dey see as parents dey spend up to £700 ($890) for one pikin per month. And many of dis parents no fit afford am o!

She say, “but without dis classes dem, di pikin go fall behind. Wen I dey around dis pikin dem, I wan born but I don already sabi too much.”

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Korean children get plenti extracurricular classes dem dey do from di age of four

For some, dis mata of plenti private lesson get deeper meaning and pain wey pass just di money.

“Minji” wan tell her tori but not publicly bicos she no wan make her parents know say she no go born say “dem go dey shocked and disappointed”. She dey live with her husband.

Minji say she bin no happy for her whole childhood and 20s.

She say, “I spend my whole life dey study”. First na to enta beta university, then for her civil servant exams, and then so she go fit get her first job at 28.

She remember as pikin wey she go stay class till late for night dey cram maths wey she hate and bin no sabi as she dey dream say she go be artist.

She say “I bin dey compete taya, and no be to achieve my dreams o, but na just to live one kain yeye ordinary life. E dey so draining.”

Na at age 32, Minji don dey free and dey enjoy life. She like to travel and dey learn to dive.

But wetin dey worry her pass na she no want make her pikin go through di shege she carry her eye see as pikin.

She don conclude say, “Korea no be place wey pikin fit live happily.”

Her husband go like make she born and e don cause fight taya before but e don accept am like dat. She tok say sometimes mind go just weak say why she no born, but den she go come remember.

Depressing social mata

For di city of Daejon, Jungyeon Chun, dey for wetin she call “single-parenting marriage”.

Afta she pick her seven year old daughter and four year old son from school, she go waka di nearby playgrounds, to pass time until her husband come back from work. Most times e no dey reach house before bed time

She say, “I bin no feel like I bin dey make ogbonge decision to born. I bin tink say sharp-sharp I fit do am, go back work.”

But wen social and financial palava join di mata, she soon find out say na only she dey do parent work. Her husband wey be trade unionist, no dey help take care of pikin or do house work.

She say, “I bin vex ehn. I read book wella and tink say women dey equal so I bin no fit accept am.”

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Jungyeon say she dey sad say women no fit enjoy motherhood bicos of di ‘tragic situation’ dem dey inside

Dis na di koko of di mata.

In di past 50 years, Korea economy don grow wit ogbonge speed, wey push women into higher education and di workforce, and e grow dia ambitions, but di roles of wife and mother no grow wit di same speed as di economy.

Jungyeon start to dey torchlight oda mama too, “I see say ah! my friend wey be mama also dey depressed and my friend across di street sef dey depressed and I come see say na social mata.”

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Jungyeon say she dey inside single parenting marriage

She start to dey draw her experiences post online. Her webtoon na huge success sake of say many women around di kontri fit relate. Now, Jungyeon don be di author of three published books.

Now she say she don pass di stage to dey vex and regret. She say “I just wish say I bin sabi di reality of di plenti work mama get. Di reason women no wan born now na because dem get courage to fit tok about am.”

But Jungyeon no happy because women no know di wonders of motherhood sake of di “tragic situation dem dey force dem enta”.

But Minji dey happy because “we be di first generation wey go fit choose. Before no be question, we gatz born pikin, So we choose say we no go born cos we fit.”

‘I go born 10 if I fit’

For Yejin house, afta dem don chop lunch finish, her friends dey follow her drag books and her oda belongings.

Dis na as Yejin don taya wit life for Korea and dey japa go New Zealand. Na just one day like dis she wake up to reason say no bodi dey force her to live for Korea.

So she come research which kontris get highest rankings for gender equality, na wia she see New Zealand. She shock as she tok say, “na place wia dem dey pay men and women equally. So I don go!”

So I come ask Yejin and her friends wetin fit change di minds, make dem born.

And na wetin Minsung tell me, surprise me, “I wan born pikin, I go born 10 if I fit” but di 27 year old tell me say she be bisexual and she get female partner.

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Minsung (right) get same sex partner and go like get pikin dem – but dem no fit use sperm donor to get belle

Same-sex marriage dey illegal for South Korea, and unmarried women no get right to just use sperm donor to get belle.

She say, “hopefully dis go change and I go fit get children wit pesin wey I love.”

Di friends bin point out say wit di way Korea population mata don enta be careful, some pipo wey wan be mama dem no fit.

But e come dey look like say politicians don dey accept how complicated di mata be now.

Dis month, South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol say di trial to use money comot di problem no work and South Korea dey too competitive.

E say im goment go now treat di mata of low birth rate as “structural wahala” but e neva clear how dem go take turn am to policy.

Earlier dis month I follow Yejin tok again for di New Zealand wey she don dey stay for three months.

She just dey gist me about her new life and friends and her work for kitchen inside pub. She say, “my work-life balance don beta wella.” She fit arrange see her friends during di week.

She add say, “I feel more respected for work and pipo no dey judge me like dat.”

“E dey do me like say make I no go house again.”

Additional reporting by Leehyun Choi and Hosu Lee


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