Volume 44 - Article 39 | Pages 941–978  

Socioeconomic differentials in fertility in South Korea

By Sojung Lim

This article is part of the Special Collection 30 "Family Changes and Inequality in East Asia"


Background: South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, reaching a record low of 0.98 in 2018. Understanding socioeconomic differentials in fertility in South Korea has become an important social and policy issue.

Objective: This study examines socioeconomic differentials in first and second childbirths among married women using various indicators of socioeconomic status at the individual and household level.

Methods: Using the Korean Labor and Income Panel Study (1998–2017), discrete-time hazard models are used to evaluate the relationships between multiple indicators of socioeconomic status and the transition to first and second births.

Results: Higher socioeconomic status (e.g., husband’s college education and standard employment, homeownership) is conducive to a transition to parenthood and second births. However, the wife’s employment ‒ standard employment in particular ‒ is negatively associated with both first and second childbirth. Among the indicators of socioeconomic resources, stable housing arrangements and the husband’s employment security appear to be the most important factors for a married couple’s fertility decisions.

Conclusions: Socioeconomically disadvantaged married couples tend to delay their transition to parenthood. In addition, those with high SES are more likely than their counterparts with low SES to have second births. If these patterns persist, they have important implications for the demographic process and social stratification.

Contribution: The findings of this study contribute to a comprehensive understanding of socioeconomic differentials in fertility in South Korea and therefore have important policy implications. These findings will also prove useful to other societies with very low fertility rates.

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Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Educational differences in early childbearing: A cross-national comparative study
Volume 33 - Article 3

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