Workaholic culture cited as major reason for women staying single
SEOUL - The woman appointed to try to reverse the world"s lowest birthrate knows better than most why billion-dollar campaigns to encourage South Korea"s female populace to procreate have failed - she is among the millions who have chosen to remain childless in the face of traditional social expectations.
A history professor at a university in Seoul before joining the government, Family Minister Chung Hyun-back said she remained single for her professional ambitions.
Entrenched gender roles at home and a workaholic culture are pushing the next generation of South Korean women to follow suit, the 64-year-old warned.
"It was extremely difficult -if not impossible - to juggle an academic career while getting married and raising children," she said, pointing out that many female professors in their 50s and 60s are single.
Rapid economic growth over several decades has seen the country"s GDP boom, but birthrates have gone in the opposite direction.
South Korea"s fertility rate- the average number of babies women are expected to have in their lifetime - stood at 1.17 in 2016, the lowest in the world.
The global average is 2.4.
That trend, coupled with the rapid aging of the country"s 50 million residents, casts a pall over the future. Its population is projected to start shrinking by 2050.
Experts blame sky-high housing prices, the costs of raising children and fears over unemployment.
South Korea has the second-highest average working hours in the OECD but women are still expected to be children"s primary caregiver.
Many firms prefer to drive pregnant staff to resign rather than pay for maternity leave, and those who return to work are seen as having damaged their career prospects.
The phenomenon has been dubbed a "birth strike".
"Under such unfair circumstances, young women usually choose their career, not marriage and childbirth," Chung said. "Unless we tackle these problems head-on, South Korea"s future will remain murky with the young generation staying away from marriage and childbirth."