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Marriage stress may fuel Korea’s low fertility rate: study

Marriage and financial stress, rather than child care-related struggles, may have a bigger influence on a Korean mother’s decision not to have more than one child, research by a state-run think tank suggested.

Contrary to the popular belief in Korea that child care stress can significantly reduce the mother’s desire to have a second child, the study, written and released by the Korea Institute of Child Care and Education, showed that wives with lower household income or who are unhappy with their marriage were most likely to keep their family small.

Meanwhile, a mother who was happy with her marriage was more likely to have a husband who was actively involved in child care, have a first baby with good sleeping patterns, not have many marital conflicts or parenting-related stress and was more likely to decide to have a second child, the researchers said.
Marriage stress may have a bigger influence on a Korean mother’s decision not to have more than one child, a research suggested. (123RF)
Marriage stress may have a bigger influence on a Korean mother’s decision not to have more than one child, a research suggested. (123RF)

The study surveyed 416 Korean mothers with a single child on the couple’s marriage satisfaction, income levels, second pregnancy planning, the husband’s participation in child care, child care-related stress and other factors. The study suggested that the nation’s demographic policies should pay attention to the quality of marriages among young couples, which are largely affected by long work hours and sexist work environments that, among other things, do not guarantee male workers’ rights to paternity leave.

The research noted that many mothers who were dissatisfied with their marriage had a spouse who was not involved with child care, although the husband‘s support, or lack thereof, with parenting was not cited as a direct influence to the wife’s decision to have a second child.

“As a baby grows older, his or her needs change,” the researchers wrote in the report. “Our research findings may suggest that as mothers learn that their babies don’t need their constant attention and support as their first child gets older, they become less overwhelmed about parenting and having a second child.”

The research suggested that the current policies do not address how dissatisfied marriages can also be one of the factors behind the low fertility rate.

“We have also found that fathers who are satisfied with their marriages are more likely to be involved in child care,” the report said. “We need a labor system that guarantees one’s right to be with their family regardless or his or her gender.

“We need more companies that value family life, and more people should be educated on how both men and women, and marriages in general can benefit from gender equality.”

South Korea has been making efforts to tackle its low fertility rate, which stood at 1.21 children per woman last year. The nation’s increasing number of delayed marriages, largely resulting from a high youth unemployment rate and expensive housing and education, has been considered one of the biggest factors behind the statistic.

Some demographic policies to tackle the situation have included offering free diapers and infant formula, designating priority seats for pregnant women, housing benefits for newlyweds and even matchmaking services.

According to the latest data from Statistics Korea, 27.2 percent of all divorced couples in 2014 were those who had been married for four years or less. In total, nearly half -- 48.7 percent -- of all divorced couples in that year were those who had been married for nine years or less.

In its effort to decrease the divorce rate among young couples, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has been offering free classes for engaged couples on how to build successful marriages, including how to plan -- and avoid unwanted -- pregnancies, how to merge finances once married and how to successfully share responsibilities on domestic affairs and parenting, since 2013.

By Claire Lee (