Young Koreans spending more time in 'emerging adulthood,' report says

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Young Koreans spending more time in 'emerging adulthood,' report says

 
A college graduate walks past job postings after a commencement ceremony on Thursday. [YONHAP]

A college graduate walks past job postings after a commencement ceremony on Thursday. [YONHAP]

 
Young Koreans today are undergoing “emerging adulthood” longer than young Koreans in the past.
 
That was the conclusion reached in a report announced by National Youth Policy Institute (NYPI) researcher Yoo Min-sang during a population strategy forum Wednesday.
 
Emerging adulthood refers to a phase at the end of adolescence when an individual searches for a stable job and prepares for marriage and parenthood.
 
Yoo said Korea’s high college entrance rate, 73.8 percent last year, and rising ages for marriage and childbirth have helped keep young Koreans stuck in the transition period.
 
“The post-adult transitional period is lengthening,” Yoo said in his report, noting that people are waiting longer to get married.
 
According to Statistics Korea, as of 2021, men entered their first marriage when they were 33.35 years old on average, while women were 31.08 years old on average. This was a 5.56- and 6.3-year increase, respectively, from 1990.
 
Couples had their firstborns when they were 27.99 years old on average in 2001, but as of 2021, the average age had climbed by 4.62 years to 32.61.
 
This means Koreans spent about five more years in the emerging adulthood period than people did in the past.
 
Yoo claimed that the longer emerging adulthood was partly caused by the longer time it took people to consider themselves adults.
 
Yoo’s survey of some 2,000 people between the ages of 18 and 34 showed that people began to think of themselves as adults from the age of 28.
 
People who “frequently” or “always” thought of themselves as adults formed a majority of respondents who were 28 and older.
 
Because many people begin to feel grown up in their late 20s, they were getting married and having kids in their 30s, said the report.
 
Another survey on emerging adulthood done by NYPI showed that fewer and fewer people think marriage is a necessity.
 
In 2016, 56 percent of respondents said people must get married, but in 2021, only 39.1 percent said they must.
 
The percentage who said people should have kids dropped to 37.2 percent from 54 percent over the same period.
 
“This is a macro change observed in both young adults and adolescents,” Yoo said in his report. “Birth rate policies need to promote independent choices rather than trying to shift people's perception.”
 
Yoo’s views were shared by other experts.
 
“The government needs to focus on providing practical support and improving policies to persuade people that having kids is a rational choice, rather than trying to lead them directly into marriage and childbirth,” said Choi Seul-ki, a demography and sociology professor at Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management.
 
Last June, Choi surveyed 834 unmarried people between the ages of 24 and 29 on their thoughts on marriage and childbirth. While the fertility rate fell below 1.0 in 2018, Korean singles thought that it was “ideal” to have 1.96 children.
 
“The fertility rate issue is a plea from our young generation,” Choi added, pointing out that people want to have kids, but choose not to due to real-life challenges such as future uncertainty, career aspirations and challenges in childcare.
 
The basic solution is getting fathers to participate in childcare, according to Choi.
 
“There need to be measures that make childcare a task for both parents and not just for mothers,” he added.
 
Health and Welfare first vice minister Lee Ki-il said the government will closely review the ideas presented during the forum to shape conditions for young Koreans to stably plan their future and to spend enough time with their families.

BY CHA HYE-SEON, SOHN DONG-JOO [sohn.dongjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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