Finding a life-long partner and building a family with them has long been considered the archetype for a happy and fulfilled life. For most of history, women were married off. They became mothers rather than allowed to pursue education, careers, artistry, or other endeavors, but in recent years, this has begun to change. The current global birthrate for 2023 is 17.464 births per 1000 people, a 1.15% decline from just last year.
More and more people are opting to get married later in life, or not at all, and forgoing having children. This paper will explore some of the changes in marriage age and frequency, as well as childbirth rates around the world, and what factors may be contributing to these new differences.
One of the countries that have seen some of the most rapid and significant changes in these statistics is South Korea. Starting in 2018, young women in South Korea have been protesting patriarchal societal standards by supporting what is known as the 4B movement, shorthand for bihon, no heterosexual marriage, bichulsan, no childbirth, biyeonae, refusing to date, and finally, bisekseu, the rejection of heterosexual sexual relationships.
In turn, marriage and birthrates in South Korea have plummeted; Macrotrends statistics show that the birth rate in South has declined nearly 2% every year after the movement began in 2018, taking them from an already low 0.71% down to 0.67% currently, the lowest birth rate in the world. On top of that, the number of newly married couples has decreased by 23% in the past five years.
This is mainly in response to high rates of digital sexual crimes committed by men; there are instances nearly every week of hidden cameras or other methods used to capture and share non-consensual images and videos of women, according to a. With their little power, young Korean women are doing their best to change how they are viewed and treated in society by men.
Moving forward, another country that has seen changes in marriage and birth rates in the United States. Starting in the mid-1940s, at the peak of the American marriage rate, there were 16.4 marriages for every 1,000 people, according to Ourworldindata. Today, it hovers at around 6.5 marriages per 1,000 people, an over 50% decrease to the lowest it has ever been.
Additionally, the same study shows that American women are waiting until much later to get married than before; the average age for a woman at marriage has risen from around 23 years old in 1990 to about 28 years old by 2018. Similarly to the marriage rate, the birth rate in the United States has fallen over 50% from 1950 to today, going from 24.3 in every 1,000 to just 12.1 in every 1,000 people.
However, surprisingly, American women haven’t changed the number of children they want to have during the same period. Women born in 1995-1999 wanted to have 2.1 children on average when they were 20-24 years old — essentially the same as the 2.2 children women born in 1965-1969 wanted at the same age, according to an Ohio State University study. So what is causing these changes?
Many social scientists are pointing to the increasing costs of housing and commercial items as the reason women are waiting to have children and get married; with wages not increasing proportionally with the cost of living, saving up for things like babies and marriage is taking much longer and becoming less realistic for American women.
Besides the United States and South Korea, many other countries have seen similar changes. Ourworldindata statistics show the birth rates in Sweden have decreased from 16.5 of every 1,000 people in 1950 to 12 of every 1,000 in 2010; in India, during the same period, it decreased from 36.8 to 22.8; in Japan, the birth rate fell from 28.1 to 8.3; lastly, in Portugal, in dropped from 24.3 to 9.3. This is reflected in the global birth rate, which has fallen from 37.8 of every 1,000 people in 1950 to 17.4 of every 1000 in 2023,
Similarly, marriage rates worldwide have also fallen, while the average age to get married has grown in most places. The percentage of British men married by the age of 30 has fallen, starting with a peak of 83% of men born in 1940, then 64% of men born in 1960, down further to 41% of those born in 1970, and finally, just 25% of men born in 1980, as reflected in the same statistics.
Ultimately, the falling childbirth rate and reluctance from younger generations to get married result from complex international social and economic issues. This is not to say that the world population is in danger; some countries have seen a more significant decline in those rates than others, and several have even seen the birth rate increase slightly in recent years.
Perhaps rather than being indicative of negative factors, fewer marriages and children instead reflect a period in which women are more accessible than ever to make their own choices.
Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe
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