The Determinants of Low Marital Fertility in Korea: A comparison with Japan

Author Name YAMAGUCHI Kazuo  (Visiting Fellow, RIETI) /YOUM Yoosik  (Yonsei University)
Creation Date/NO. March 2012 12-E-013
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Using panel survey data with comparable variables, this study tests whether certain sets of hypotheses that are related to rational-choice and purposive-action theories of birth behavior hold in Korea as well as in Japan. In a previous study, Yamaguchi (2009) tested similar sets of hypotheses with Japanese panel data and they were largely supported. First, we clarify that although the rate of first marital birth is higher for Korea than for Japan despite the former's smaller total fertility rate (TFR), Korean women tend to delay the timing of second birth following the first birth compared with Japanese women, and the rate of third childbirth is lower for Korea than for Japan. The latter two tendencies contribute to the lower average marital birth rate in Korea than in Japan.

Despite these differences, there are many commonalities between the two countries regarding the determinants of marital childbirth. The magnitude of the effects of these determinants differs between the two countries, however. First, we found that the negative interaction effect between parity and income on fertility rate predicted by Gary Becker's theory regarding the quality-price of children exists for both Japan and Korea. The theory is supported more strongly for Korea than for Japan, however. This finding indicates that policies to reduce the costs of attaining "high-quality children," such as children's educational and medical expenses, will be effective in raising fertility, but more efficiently so in Korea than in Japan.

Second, we found that the availability of childcare leave increases the rate of marital fertility in both Japan and Korea. This tendency, however, holds more strongly in Japan than in Korea. Although this finding may be a result of the fact that the legally entitled term of childcare is much longer in Japan than in Korea, it nonetheless indicates that childcare leave policies in Japan were more successful than their Korean counterparts in raising fertility.