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Some Asian countries have long displayed a marked preference for boys. But mentalities are changing in the region, and particularly in South Korea. The birth rate reached 104.7 boys per 100 girls in 2022, according to Statistics Korea.
The South Korean Institute of Statistics has found that the imbalance between girls and boys has been decreasing for ten years. There were 105.7 boys for every 100 girls in 2012, according to figures from Statistics Korea quoted by the Korea Times. This selection in favor of boys was even more marked in 1993 when there were 209.7 male newborns for every 100 females.
These figures reflect the efforts made by the various South Korean governments, both progressive and conservative, to combat the gender imbalance at birth through policies of gender equality and economic growth. This demographic distortion was accentuated from the 1970s, when the technologies for prenatal determination of the sex of the child began to be democratized. The use of ultrasound has often led to deliberate abortions to obtain the son so desired by South Korean families.
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A declining birth rate on the Asian continent
Son preference is a problem that goes beyond the borders of the land of the Morning Calm. China and India have also been confronted with it for decades, as have Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Taiwan and Tunisia. This phenomenon weighs on the demography of the Asian continent, but also on that of the whole world. Indeed, China and India represent more than a third of the population of the planet. However, there are 11.9 million girls missing in China and 10.6 million in India, according to a study published in 2019 in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Several international agencies have sounded the alarm over the pressures women in many regions face to give birth to boys, not girls. A pronatalist injunction that South Koreans support less and less. Thus, 65% of them say they do not want children, according to a survey of 2022 from the Korea Population, Health and Welfare Association (KoPHWA).
This choice has serious societal consequences in a country plagued by a declining birth rate. The fertility rate stood at 0.78 children per woman in 2022, compared to 0.81 the previous year. This is the lowest figure ever recorded since South Korea began compiling these statistics in 1970. To curb this phenomenon, the government of President Yoon Seok-youl is stepping up initiatives to boost the birth rate. One is to allow South Korean parents to take 18 months leave to care for their newborn. A step forward in a country where childcare is traditionally the responsibility of women.