Volume 37 - Article 24 | Pages 743–768

Division of domestic labour and lowest-low fertility in South Korea

By Erin Hye-Won Kim

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Date received:17 May 2016
Date published:26 Sep 2017
Word count:7197
Keywords:domestic work, fertility behavior, fertility intentions, formal childcare, gender inequalities, grandparents, longitudinal analysis, South Korea
Weblink:You will find all publications in this Special Collection on “Domestic Division of Labour and Fertility Choice in East Asia” here.


Background: One explanation offered for very low fertility has been the gap between improvements in women’s socioeconomic status outside the home and gender inequality in the home. The related empirical evidence is lacking for East Asian countries, where women may face particular challenges combining career and family due to the unique regional context.

Objective: This paper provides an up-to-date picture of Korean women’s fertility intentions, fertility behaviour, and the division of domestic labour with husbands, parents, parents-in-law, and formal childcare services. It also examines how the informal and formal help women receive affects their fertility behaviour.

Methods: Using data from the 2008, 2010, and 2012 waves of the Korean Longitudinal Survey of Women and Families, this study describes fertility intentions, fertility behaviour, and the division of labour. Focusing on women with one child, I use logit regressions to estimate how various sources of help relate to the intended and unintended births of second children.

Results: Fertility intentions were a good predictor of fertility behaviour. Both fertility intentions and behaviour displayed the greatest variability among women with one child. Husbands did not contribute much to domestic work, and gender inequality grew with parity. Husbands’ support in the domestic sphere increased the likelihood of intended births. Formal help also had a positive impact when its costs were not high, but parental help had no significant impact. None of these sources of help was related to unintended births.

Contribution: Government policies that aim to address Korea’s low fertility would be wise to target women with one child. Empirical evidence from Korea supports the recent theoretical literature on the association of low fertility with gender inequity. Various sources of support that relieve women’s domestic labour burden and enhance their ability to reconcile work with family life may boost fertility rates in East Asia.

Author's Affiliation

Erin Hye-Won Kim - National University of Singapore, Singapore [Email]

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