SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea has the world’s lowest birth rate, according to a United Nations report released on Tuesday, as women in Asia’s fourth-largest economy struggle to achieve a balance between work and other life demands.
The annual report by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) found the fertility rate per woman in South Korea was only 1.1, the lowest among 201 countries surveyed.
“Even as women have gained equality in access to education and work, decisions on having more children are constrained by their ‘second shift’ in taking care of children and managing households,” said Won Do-yeon, chief of the UNFPA’s Seoul office, in an email interview with Reuters.
Reversing the decline in fertility will require wider institutional reform consisting of policies to empower women, as well as the greater involvement and support of men, he said.
The U.N. report, which looked at practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality, featured a group of South Korean female activists who fought to curb a deep-rooted preference for son in the 1980s.
In 1994, 115.4 boys were born in the country for every 100 girls, but the ratio has dropped to 105.6, around a natural level, it said.
However, women in the country still face more domestic responsibilities, a glass ceiling at workplaces and new forms of gender-based violence including online sexual abuse, the report said.
Crimes involving dating violence and spy cams have led thousands of women in South Korea to protest in recent years, calling for stricter penalties and enforcement of laws.
“A strong civil society and women’s groups are critical to addressing the emerging forms of violence,” Won said.
Other countries with a low birth rate included Bosnia and Herzegovina and Singapore at 1.2, and Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Portugal at 1.3.