The Korean Sampo-generation: the Lowest Birth Rate in the World

Demographic Challenge and Feminist Protest The ageing population of South Korea brings new economic and societal challenges as approximately 15 percent of the population are over the age of 65. Life expectancy are amongst the highest in the...

Demographic Challenge and Feminist Protest

The ageing population of South Korea brings new economic and societal challenges as approximately 15 percent of the population are over the age of 65. Life expectancy are amongst the highest in the world, but the welfare system is limited. This creates the consequence of a high relative poverty amongst retired Koreans.

At the same time the number of children per woman are the lowest in the world. According to statistics from Korean authorities 0,98 children per women was being born in 2018, the lowest since statistics started. For 2019, preliminary numbers from Statistics Korea indicate a further decrease with a low of 0,88 children per women in the third quarter.  

Data from Statistics Korea

Gender discrimination in the workplace is not unusual and around 40 percent of women leave their jobs after having a child since it’s hard to combine both a career and family for women. While many women are successfully integrated on the labor market, many are expected to take care of the family and the household. There has been a slight increase in the number of women in the workforce but only from around 40 percent in the 1990’s to around 42 percent today. Sweden compares with a consistent 47,7 percent.

The Sampo-Generation

A backlash has occurred where women prefer a career over a traditional female role. This feministic protest and societal phenomena are characterized by the “Sampo-generation”. The word “sampo” meaning to discard three things: relationships, marriage and children. 

A contributing cause to the low birth rate is the expenses. Even though basic education is free in South Korea, the very high competition for the best universities have created a need for private tutoring and education, the “Hagwon”, or cramming schools that parents feel they must provide for their children even as it is very costly.

President Moon came to power with an ambitious reformative agenda and he has demonstrated a great deal of interest in the Nordic welfare model.

The president’s reforms have included a reduction in the workweek by 16 hours, down to 52 from previously 68, or rather to 40 hours with an acceptable 12-hour overtime. The reforms also included an increase in the minimal wage. The thought behind these reforms are that it will increase the living standards and quality of life, which should lead to increased productivity and birthrate.

Authors: Victoria Rhodin Sandström, First Secretary, Political Affairs
Arvin Gorginpaveh, Intern
Anders Hektor, Counsellor, Innovation and Science