Volume 38 - Article 13 | Pages 309–320  

Educational differences in period fertility: The case of South Korea, 1996–2010

By Eunkoo Lee


Background: Previous studies on education-specific fertility in South Korea suggest that fertility differentials across educational groups have been diminishing in recent years.

Objective: This study aims to verify whether education-specific fertility differentials have diminished in South Korea, as suggested by previous studies.

Methods: I use data from the 10% sample of South Korea’s 2010 census to estimate the education-specific period total fertility rate (TFR) by using the own-children method.

Results: I observe a steep rise in fertility for women with middle school or less (low education) education since the early 2000s. I find a large proportion of young foreign-born women concentrated in this low-education group. When I repeat the analysis considering only native-born Korean women this increasing pattern disappears: Native-born Korean women with low education had the lowest fertility level throughout the period of analysis (1996–2010).

Conclusions: Contrary to previous studies’ finding that the education-specific fertility differential gap is narrowing in South Korea, I find that the period TFR for the low-education group shows a sharp increase in fertility level since 2005 due to the increase of foreign-born women, who are mostly young with a low level of education. After removing foreign-born women from the data set, the low-education group persistently had lower fertility than other groups.

Contribution: By capturing the impact of the recent demographic change resulting from the increase in international marriages, this study contradicts the previous finding that the fertility gap between educational groups in South Korea has been diminishing in recent years.

Author's Affiliation

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