CV NEWS FEED // As birth and marriage rates continue to plummet across the world, the South Korean government has begun playing matchmaker in an attempt to stabilize its population.
South Korea already had the world’s lowest birth rate in 2021, but in 2022 the fertility rate dropped even lower, from 0.81 to 0.78 children per woman, according to data from Statistics Korea. In 2022, only 249,000 babies were born, 11,500 fewer than the number of babies born in 2021.
The same study reported that 372,800 deaths were recorded in 2022, a number that is growing steadily as the majority of the population ages.
To maintain a stable population without migration, a country needs a fertility rate of 2.1—Korea’s birth rate dropped below 2 children per woman in 1984 and has been decreasing ever since. The birth rate fell below one child per woman for the first time in 2018 due to financial crises and an increase in housing expenses, education, and child care, according to the New York Times.
The New York Times also reported that the implications of a shrinking population include fewer students, a military recruitment crisis, and problems for senior pensions since the working class is becoming smaller.
The issue isn’t just with falling birth rates. Statistics Korea also studied the number of marriages in Korea, which are reported to be 3.7 marriages per 1,000 people. According to the Pulitzer Center, marriages and children are closely linked in South Korea, with only 2.5% of children born out of wedlock.
To combat the steadily lowering number of marriages, as well as to nudge Koreans towards growing the population, the government has begun hosting blind-date events for single adults.
“A negative attitude toward marriage is continuing to spread in South Korean society,” Shin Sang-jin, the mayor of a city that hosted a blind date event, told the Times. “I think it’s the local governments’ role to create the conditions for people who do want to get married to find their partners.”
According to the Times, Sang-jin’s event received over 1,000 applications for only 100 available spots, indicating that government matchmaking might be popular. But others say that the idea of the government becoming more involved in their personal and romantic lives is strange to them.
“It feels a bit artificial,” a Korean media specialist told the Times. “It’s weird that the government is trying to intervene in personal relationships.”
The Times reported that a southeastern city successfully brought 11 couples together after hosting blind date events for 12 years. In another city, these events have been held since 2016 and produced 13 couples. It is unknown if these couples have had children, however.
Researchers studying the population decline say that the matchmaking events might be more of a temporary and somewhat ineffective fix to the problem.
Jung Jae Hoon, a professor of social welfare at Seoul Women’s University, said that the issue is more with the fact that living expenses in South Korea aren’t affordable anymore. She also added that the culture promotes workaholism. According to Hoon, reduced work hours, a more family-friendly culture, and gender equality would be more effective in stabilizing the population.
A 2022 study on Korean fertility rates and policies to encourage fertility found that the higher a woman’s education goes, the less likely she is to have a child. The study reported that “As women became educated and engaged in economic activities, the marriage period was delayed, or childbirth was abandoned or postponed.”
But changing these trends among women as well as addressing other factors going into declining birth rates involves changing the entire culture, which proves to be more difficult than simply hosting events for single adults.
Notably, World Youth Day 2027 is expected to be hosted in South Korea’s capital, Seoul. Will evangelization and the presence of young Catholics affect South Korea’s culture and idea of family life? Only time will tell.