Women oppose international expectations of being ‘baby-making machines’


Cheyenne Meeks

Aspiring women are striving for larger career goals as female empowerment is on the rise overseas. But as fertility rates plummet, these endeavors are being overshadowed by society’s expectations for women to have kids.

Cheyenne Meeks, Arts & Entertainment Editor

In an attempt to escape suffocating gender norms, a myriad of young women across multiple nations have been collectively forgoing motherhood to focus on furthering their career. However, this broad social movement has engendered a pressing economic concern: low birth rates.

For three years in a row, South Korea has hit its lowest birth rates ever recorded, caused by a proliferation of women choosing work over familism. This pattern of lifestyle choices affecting pregnancy extends to other economically affluent countries where mortality rates are low, contraceptives are more accessible and children become a financial burden on parents.

According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), an overall fertility rate of 2.1 is needed for a population to remain stable, assuming no immigration occurs. In 2022, South Korea had the world’s lowest fertility rate of 0.78, garnering attention from academics and policymakers.

As a previous AP Human Geography teacher, Sara Russell explains there are sizable consequences to a low birth rate. “Low birth rates ultimately affect the total population of a country. If we are talking about a developed country like the United States or South Korea, one consequence would be less workers available. These countries are already seeing fewer workers because of the retirement of the baby boomer generation,” Russell stated.

To prevent a shortage of workers and issues with a growing elderly population, the South Korean government implemented a national campaign that incentivized having more children. Today, parents in South Korea have access to universal free childcare and subsidized housing, receive monthly cash allowances of up to 200,000 won ($153) and are offered 18 months of paid parental leave.

However, these initiatives were ineffective in the long-run, failing to tackle the root cause of low birth rates: a heavily patriarchal society and social stigmas surrounding women with children.

Gender inequality has been a pervasive issue that sweeps across all facets of daily life in South Korea. Women are expected to adhere to traditional roles of managing the house, maintaining a good physique and preparing meals for their family. Due to these pressures, there exists a notion that women must give up their professional ambitions once they start a family. 

So as women pursue higher education and become more involved in male-dominated roles, they shun the thought of procreation because they have been conditioned to believe that advancing professionally and having kids is not viable.

This idea is further reinforced through the prevalence of discrimination against women at work. To fight against the patriarchal structure of the workforce, women have adopted a more resilient and forceful attitude to achieve the same pay grade, recognition and positions as their male counterparts, consequently postponing any future plans to have kids.

According to a 2022 survey by the Korea Development Institute, 65% of South Korean women don’t want children and 52.4% of unmarried South Koreans in their 20s don’t think having children after getting married is a must.

PV senior Alexa Very is passionate about gender studies and is alarmed by South Korea’s cultural environment for women. “In South Korea, women’s psyches are damaged because of the predisposed expectations for them to be perfect wives and employees. Misogyny and sexism are so interwoven into society that women have no choice but to fight back, calling for drastic measures,” Very stated.

Also the lead teacher of the Positive Place Club, Russell has strong opinions about empowering women in education and vocations. 

“To me, true female empowerment in the workplace means that women are viewed for their individual strengths and not in comparison to what perceived male strengths are. Men and women are different and each individual is different. Assuming men and women are going to behave or perform based on gender stereotypes does a disservice to everyone. Furthermore, structuring an entire workplace around competition can be counterproductive when we live in a global society that is continually embracing cooperation and collaboration,” Russell shared.

Until the government acknowledges women’s grievances and the disparity in treatment towards men and women that has been ever-so present in South Korean culture and society, the birth strike will continue and the population will decrease. The survival of the nation depends on destigmatizing childbearing and fostering open-minded values.