Why are the Birth Rates Lowering in Asia?

South Korea has been experiencing a steady decline in birth rates since 2015, but the situation has become even more concerning, with the country seeing more deaths than births for three consecutive years. Additionally, South Korea holds the record label as the lowest fertility rate, with the average number of children per woman dropping to 0.78 last year from 0.81 the previous year. That is far below the necessary rate of 2.1 for natural population growth and will likely lead to significant population-related issues in the future.

Many countries in East Asia are struggling with declining fertility rates and aging populations. Japan, for example, is dealing with similar issues to South Korea and may be on the verge of social dysfunction. Even China is experiencing a drop in population for the first time in six decades, with fewer children being born and delayed childbirth becoming common. As a result, East Asia now has the lowest fertility rate of any global region, with only 1.2 births per woman. That is significantly lower than the worldwide fertility rate of 2.3.

It may be possible that the high cost of housing has affected women’s decision to have children. With such astronomical housing costs, not having children is understandable why women might choose to delay or avoid having kids altogether. On top of that, raising children is expensive in a modern-day competitive society. Furthermore, many women have placed a higher priority on pursuing their careers and doing what they love.

Some women express concern about having children due to the potential impact on their careers. Seha, a resident of Seoul, shares this sentiment, stating that she is afraid to have children because it may hinder her ability to pursue her career goals. She has observed that many married women have had to quit their jobs to focus on raising their children. While having a child may bring happiness, the fear of losing their job can be a significant barrier for some women.

In Asia, birth rates have been declining due to many factors. One is the changing social dynamics and cultural attitudes toward marriage and family. As economies develop, traditional family structures and values tend to evolve. That means the younger generation is often more focused on pursuing their education, personal freedom, and careers than on starting a family. Moreover, the rising cost of living, child-rearing prices, and housing expenses have made many couples more hesitant to have children.

Another important consideration is the impact on the economy. In Asia, for instance, many countries enjoy periods of rapid growth, which can drive up the cost of living. As people work hard to pursue their educational and career goals, they may find it challenging to dedicate the necessary time and resources to starting a family or getting married. Additionally, as economies shift from primarily agrarian to more industrialized, the need for large families to support agricultural labor has decreased. That can lead to a decrease in the traditional motivation for having more children.

The increase in education and empowerment of women in Asia has heavily influenced birth rates in positive and negative ways. When women have access to education and job opportunities, they tend to postpone marriage and childbirth to focus on their personal and career goals. Furthermore, women’s empowerment has resulted in the availability and acceptance of birth control and family planning methods. That allows women to make informed decisions about their reproductive health.

As urbanization rapidly spreads, that is not uncommon for individuals and families to uproot from rural areas and relocate to cities, searching for better job opportunities and living conditions. However, this transition often means adapting to a new way of life, with limited space and resources making it challenging to raise huge families. Additionally, the social support systems that once existed in rural communities, such as extended family networks, may not be as prevalent in urban areas, leading to declining birth rates and a preference for smaller families or even remaining childless.

Many Asian countries have implemented policies to control population growth. One of the most well-known is China’s one-child policy, which has recently got updated to permit two children. Although it has successfully lowered birth rates, it has also led to uneven demographics, with an increasing number of elderly individuals and a decreasing workforce. That has become a burden to social welfare programs, decreasing the tax base, and may result in economic stagnation.