South Korea

  • Laura Rahm
Part of the Demographic Transformation and Socio-Economic Development book series (DTSD, volume 11)


Chapters  5,  6,  7 represent the country case studies, which are the centerpiece of this book. They always follow the same logic. First, we present the unique country context, with son preference, lowering fertility and access to reproductive technologies giving rise to sex imbalances at birth. The analysis then turns to national laws and policies related to GBSS before assessing the influence of public policy on sex selection and sex ratios at birth at a national and regional level. Each country chapter closes with a discussion of the major findings and policy conclusions with reference to the conceptual framework of this investigation.

This chapter covers the Korean case study. Son preference – rooted in Confucian heritage – in combination with declining fertility gave rise to sex imbalances in the early 1980s. After a decade of rapid SRB increase, the number of male to female births started to decline in 1994 – seemingly in concert with anti-sex selection policies. Yet, the qualitative findings suggest that these policies were poorly enforced and only stepped up after SRB had begun to normalize. In fact, access to sex-selective services and abortions were widely available despite their illegality. Moreover, the Korean government introduced awareness campaigns, abolished the male favoring family head system, and issued wider reforms linked to fertility, pensions and old age protection. Thus, South Korea can be easily regarded as a poster child for addressing sex selection from multiple angles. However, the analysis shows that anti-sex selection policies played a minor role in the SRB transition. Instead, other drivers can explain the SRB decline namely, a shift in family norms, socio-economic development, and enhanced women’s status. While sex selection itself is seen as a problem of the past, the government is still addressing its long-term consequences (or magnitudes). As such, authorities have become more concerned with “matchmaking” in order to boost fertility, counter population decline, and deal with generations of missing women.


Son preference Sex selection Public policies Policy impact South Korea 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Rahm
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Population and DevelopmentParisFrance

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