Should a Second Demographic Transition Follow the First? Demographic Contrasts: Canada and South Korea
Zenaida R. Ravanera 0 1
Rajulton Fernando 0 1
Byunh-yup Cho 0 1
National Statistical Office, Seoul, Republic of Korea
0 Chosun University , Kwangju , Korea
1 University of Western Ontario
Should a Second Demographic Transition
Follow the First? Demographic Contrasts:
Canada and South Korea
Zenaida R. Ravanera*
Hwa Young Lee**
Discussion Paper no. 97-4
* Population Studies Centre, University of Western Ontario,
London, Canada N6C 2A6.
** Social Statistics Division, National Statistical Office, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
*** Department of Computer Science and Statistics, Chosun University, Kwangju, Korea.
A contributed paper to the formal session "The Demographic Transition: Similarities and
Diversities" of the XXIII General Population Conference of the International Union for the
Scientific Study of Population, Beijing China, 11-17 October 1997.
"East is East, and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet.
....But there is neither East nor West,
border, nor breed, nor birth
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!"
The main explanation for the fertility decline all over the world is the Demographic Transition
theory. From a regime of high levels of mortality and fertility, countries have moved on to a situation
of low levels of mortality and fertility as they developed economically and as social and cultural
props supporting the pre-transition regimes weakened. In some countries like South Korea, the
decline was so steep and so fast that their fertility levels now match that of the West
(Coale, Cho and
Goldman, 1980; Choe and Kim, 1995)
. And, over the years since its inception, the Demographic
Transition theory has been modified, refined, and quantified (Freedman, R.; 1979, 1982; Caldwell,
1976; Easterlin, 1983). We are still in the process of fully understanding the factors that bring about
(Mason, 1992; Burch, 1996)
In the meantime, the Western countries where the first demographic transition started more than a
century ago have moved on to their second demographic transition
(van de Kaa, 1987; Lesthaeghe,
implying a further decline in fertility to below replacement level, a rise in mean age at
marriage of both men and women, and a rise in rates of divorce and extra-marital births. Van de Kaa
(1987) describes the sequences of changes toward the second demographic transition in European
countries essentially as consisting of: (1) a shift "from preventive contraception to self-fulfilling
conception", that is, contraception is used not merely to prevent unwanted births but to have children
as an expression of self-fulfilment; (2) a shift "from golden age of marriage to dawn of cohabitation";
(3) a shift "from era of the king-child with parents to that of the king-pair with a child"; and, (4) a
shift "from uniform to pluralistic families and households". Canada is one such country, even though
the transition under consideration has set in somewhat later than in other countries.
This paper compares and contrasts the demographic situations in Canada and South Korea. Using
a few familiar indicators, similarities and differences in demographic changes between the two
countries are highlighted. In particular, the questions addressed in this paper are: Given that South
Korea went through its first demographic transition quite rapidly, would it then undergo the second
demographic transition also? If yes, would its features be similar to those of Canada (or to any other
Western nation)? What factors would influence such a transition?
Similarities: Fertility and Nuptiality
The main indicators of the second demographic transition in the West are: decline in fertility to
below replacement level, rise in mean age at marriage of both men and women, and rise in rates of
divorce and extra-marital births (Lesthaeghe, 1995). Of these indicators, those of fertility and
nuptiality in Canada and South Korea have great similarities in the nineties; but all other indicators
(of divorce, cohabitation, and extra-marital births) show substantial differences.
The total fertility rate (TFR) in Korea was still at a high pre-transition level (6.0) in 1960, whereas
in Canada it had already reached a low of 3.8 (Figure 1). From 1960 to mid seventies, both countries
experienced a steep decline in fertility rates such that the TFR of Korea dropped to 3.6 and that of
Canada to a below replacement level of 1.8. Since then, Canada's TFR has remained at about the
same level whereas that of Korea declined further to reach a below replacement level of fertility (1.6)
by 1987. Since then, the TFR in both countries have remained at below replacement levels although
slightly higher than in 1987.
The similarity between the two countries in total fertility rates masks the variations that exist in their
age-specific fertility rates. As Table 1 reveals, fertility in Korea is more highly concentrated among
women aged 20 to 29, whereas among Canadian women fertility is more spread out from age 15 to
There is also a similarity between the two countries in their nuptiality process: The mean ages at first
marriage of both men and women are high.1 In the case of women, the mean ages at first marriage
in both countries were almost identical at about 24.7 in the mid eighties. However, the trends
leading toward that convergence were somewhat different since 1960 (Figure 2). In Canada, the
mean age was 23 years in 1960, declined to 22.6 in 1966 and remained static for about a decade
before increasing gradually to 27 years by 1995 - an increment of 4 years from 1960. In contrast, the
mean age at first marriage of Korean women rose continually from 21.6 in 1960 to 26 in 1995, also
an increase of about 4 years.
Among men, the mean ages at first marriage in both countries have reached a very high level of 29
years by the nineties. They were almost the same in the sixties (25.8 in Canada and 25.4 in South
Korea). In Canada it slightly declined until the mid seventies, then gradually increased in the
eighties. The mean age for Korean men increased between the sixties and seventies, remained about
the same for a decade before increasing again to such a high level in the nineties.
These two demographic features of below replacement fertility and high age at first marriage are
viewed in the literature as first signs of the second demographic transition. They definitely point to
the rapid onset of the first demographic transition in Korea, but the other (and more 'radical') signs
of the second transition have not yet been observed. However, the first signs are so dramatic that
they may also be pointing toward a hastening of other signs as well. The next section contrasts
Canada and Korea in this respect.
Dissimilarities: Divorce, Extra-Marital Births, and Cohabitation
In contrast to fertility and nuptiality, the levels of divorce and extra-marital births differ in the two
countries. Divorce rates in Canada have steadily increased in the past twenty years -- from 1.4 per
1 The mean ages at first marriage shown here have been computed from different data
sources in the two countries. Vital registration data were used for Canada. The census data were
used for South Korea to compute the singulate mean ages at marriage (SMAM). In periods of
rising age at marriage, SMAM may underestimate the average ages, possibly by as much as half a
year for the periods referred to in this section. Thus, the better estimates of the mean ages at
marriage for Korean men and women may be even higher than those shown here.
thousand population in 1970 to 2.
9 in 1990
and 2.7 in 1994 (Figure 3). And, extra-marital births have
more than doubled within two decades: the percentage of live births to single women increased from
decreased from 88.7% in 1977 to 75.5% in 1990.
In Korea some drastic changes have occurred but the levels remain much lower than those of
Canada. The divorce rates doubled from 0.4 per thousand population in 1970 to 1.1 in 1990 and
increased again to 1.5 in 1994, but this level is only about half that of Canada (Figure 3). Regretably,
we do not have data on rates of extra-marital births for South Korea, but our guess is that they are
lower than that of Canada.
Another phenomenon that has become prominent in Canada in recent years, but not in Korea, is the
rise in rates of cohabitation.2
Among Canadian women aged 25-29, for example, 7% were
cohabiting in 1981. This doubled to 14% in 1991. Further, the high rates of divorce, cohabitation,
and extra-marital births have led to an increase in percentage of one-parent households. In 1961,
families, of which 85% were headed by women.
In South Korea,
estimates that in 1980, 77% were intact households, about 16% were
single headed households (of which 5% were headed by males and 11% were headed by females),
and 7% were non-family households. Thus, the proportions of one-parent families do not seem to
be too different in the two countries. However, in Canada one-parent families arise mainly from
divorce, cohabitation, and extra-marital births, while Mason (p.39) notes that in South Korea, "the
rise in headship rates for men and women is primarily a consequence of mortality among spouses".
This is no doubt a consequence too of the relatively low rates of remarriage in South Korea. Mason's
2 The rise in rates of cohabitation together with further increases in extramarital births,
high percentage of one-parent households, and rise in fertility among those aged 30 and over are
identified by Lesthaeghe (1995) as more recent (seventies to nineties) features of the second
demographic transition in Western countries.
projection to the year 2000 shows very little change in the types of households.
The similarities in fertility and nuptiality and the dissimilarities in all other demographic indices
examined here between the two countries clearly show that South Korea has indeed undergone the
first demographic transition, but not the second.
Using van de Kaa's (1987) sequence of changes toward the second demographic transition in
European countries, it is clearly seen that in South Korea the "shift from preventive contraception
to self-fulfilling conception" has occurred; that is, contraception is being used not merely to prevent
unwanted births but to have precisely the number of children couples desire. According to the 1994
National Family Heath and Ferttility Survey, 11.8% of users are practicing contraception to space
births, while 85.9% of women are contracepting to stop getting pregnant. With this information, and
given the very low level of fertility in Korea, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the "shift
from preventive contraception to self-fulfilling conception" has indeed happened.
On the other hand, the low rates of divorce, cohabitation, and extramarital births in Korea suggest
that the three other "shifts" that van de Kaa enumerates have not happened. Whether or not these
shifts will ever occur in Korea is difficult to say now. However, it may be helpful to view the
influences leading toward the second demographic transition and examine what is happening in
a) Women's Education
As with the first demographic transition, the second is also brought about by economic and cultural
factors. These factors help bring about demographic changes through such intermediate variables
as women's education, labour force participation, and political emancipation, and through changes
in values, specifically, from materialism to post-materialism (Lesthaeghe, 1995). We will discuss
here the education and labor force participation of women as well as the change in values. For lack
data, we leave out women's political emancipation.
The education of women in both countries have increased over the past few decades. According to
the 1955 census, almost all Korean women (97%) aged 25 and over had only a primary level of
schooling (Table 2). A mere 3% went to middle and high school, and 0.3% moved on further to
college education. But, by 1990, the percentage with primary education decreased to 43%, while
almost 50% were in the middle or high school levels, and 8% in college level.
In contrast, the levels of education of Canadian women were high even during the fifties. The 1951
census showed that 51% percent of women aged 25 and over had elementary schooling and 48%
had high school education. However, as in Korea, only 1% of them had college education. Over the
next few decades, the schooling of Canadian women increased phenomenally such that by 1991, only
17% had elementary education, 41% reached the secondary level, and 43% got postsecondary
education (with 11% going for university degrees).
b) Labor Force Participation
The labour force participation of women has also dramatically increased in the past two decades in
both countries, with a much higher rate for Canadian women. By the early seventies, for example,
the labour force participation rates were almost the same in both countries (37% for Canada and 3
for Korea). By 1990
, Korea's participation rate reached 47% while that of Canada increased even
higher to 54% (Figure 4). The differences were greater among women aged 20-24. In the sixties, the
gap was just about 6% (50% among Canadians and 43% among Koreans). In 1990, the difference
has increased to 17% (82% in Canada and 65% in Korea).
c) Value Changes
Following Inglehart (1977, 1990), Lesthaeghe (1995) shows that the effect of economic development
and culture on demographic changes is also mediated through value change from materialism to
post-materialism.3 The post-materialists are less likely to adhere to traditional societal norms and
3 Inglehart starts off with Maslow's hierarchy of needs; that is, with the satisfaction of
physiological and safety needs, the needs for love, esteem, and belonging (or self-actualization
needs) come to the fore. Inglehart thinks that during the decades of prosperity and peace
have more permissive attitudes towards abortion, divorce and extramarital affairs. Because of their
past experience of economic and physical security, postmaterialists tend to take for granted the
economic viability of single parenthood and are more willing to bear the financial and emotional
costs of divorce. And, the high priority they place on self-actualization makes them favour careers
over childrearing as a means of self-fulfilment among women. It also makes them less tolerant of
unsatisfactory marriages (Inglehart, 1990).
Through the World Values Survey conducted in 1990-91, Abramson and Inglehart (1995) found that
the South Korean society is on the path to post-materialism in a similar way experienced by the
Western countries. South Korea has experienced a very rapid economic growth since the mid-sixties,
as a result of which "the youngest South Koreans show a clear preponderance of Postmaterialist
values, with the trend line rising so steeply that this youngest cohort actually converges with its
(Abramson and Inglehart, 1995, p.133)
. The older cohorts of Koreans
included in the survey, however, still showed predominantly materialist values leading to an overall
low level of postmaterialism in Korea. On the scale of post-materialism developed by Abramson and
Inglehart (1995:124-5), Canada gets a score of 32 whereas South Korea has a score of 4.
The above comparison of the three variables mediating the effects of economic development and
culture on demographic changes shows that in Korea women's levels of education and labour force
participation are still lower and that postmaterialism is less widespread. However, changes are
occurring fast. Whether these changes would lead to levels equal to those of Canada and whether
such changes would correspondingly lead to demographic similarities undoubtedly depend on the
primary sources of change: economic development and culture.
following the end of the second world war, Western societies have had their economic and safety
needs adequately met and have moved toward the satisfaction of their higher self-actualization
needs. He further hypothesizes that values acquired during a person's formative years are carried
Economic and Cultural Factors
A comparison of economic growth rate between Canada and South Korea shows a difference in
timing: whereas Canada's economy was strong in the fifties and sixties and slowed down from the
mid seventies, that of South Korea started growing from the mid sixties and has continued strongly
into the nineties (Figure 5). Since there is usually a lag of time before economic growth translates
itself into benefits for women (such as higher education and labour force participation) and into
value changes among younger cohorts, the indicators seen above assure that it would just be a matter
of time before South Korea's levels equal those of Canada.
In terms of change in values, some might argue as do Abramson and Inglehart (1995) that it will just
be a matter of time before the level of postmaterialism in South Korea catches up with the West.
Post-materialist values once acquired are expected to persist through adulthood. Succeeding younger
cohorts of Koreans are getting used to periods of high level of economic development and high
levels of growth. This would lead to taking for granted their economic well-being and physical
security and to placing more value on self actualization, needs of love, esteem, and belonging. The
overall societal shift from materialism to postmaterialism would then come about mainly
through cohort replacement.
Or, perhaps, the shift may never take place, given the cultural and religious contexts in South Korea.
While the shift to postmaterialism may be inevitable in one sense with cohort replacement, South
Korea's traditional culture would determine how long that shift would take and what changes in
social structure would the shift to post-materialism bring about. While the emergence of
postmaterialism is a phenomenon mainly of advanced industrial societies
(Abramson and Inglehart,
, religion and culture certainly come into the picture. In Western countries, Inglehart (1977,
1990) showed that Protestantism was a major factor in the timing of the shift to postmaterialism.
Lesthaeghe (1995) too found a link between the predominance of Protestantism in the advent of the
second demographic transition.
An important determinant of demographic and social changes in South Korea is its Confucian culture
through its direct effects on demographic behaviour as well as its indirect effects through the
intermediate variables of women's education and labour force participation.
In general, the ideological underpinning of Confucianism subordinates females to males. The
wellknown saying of Confucius is unambiguous regarding the roles of men and women: "Man is to
woman as the sun is to moon; he leads, she follows; thus, harmony reigns." And, as Deuchler
(1992:231) says, "In cosmological terms, heaven (yan) dominates earth (yin); and correspondingly,
male has precedence over female. The clear hierarchical order between the sexes is thus
cosmologically sanctioned and is imperative for the proper functioning of the human order."
Ancestor worship is one of the essential characteristics of the traditional Confucian family in that
it implies a strength of ties that bind its members even beyond the grave. Such an essential cultural
practice excludes women on the basis of interdependent patrilineal system from lineal succession
and ritual heirship. Only the oldest son of the primary wife can succeed his father. Women's only
means of participation in this system is by marrying and having a son.
Thus, in Confucian societies, one of the family strategies for economic upward mobility is to invest
in sons' education and training, in most cases with the support of daughters' earnings and, if
necessary, at the expense of daughters' education. Greenhalgh (1985) found that in Taiwan there are
disparities by sex in the distribution of benefits accruing from economic progress, in particular, in
terms of higher education and better occupation. She hypothesized that the same was true in other
Confucian countries like South Korea. It is no surprise therefore that the gap in the percentages of
college educated men and women is rather wide. In 1990, for example, only 8% of Korean women
aged 25 or over had college education as compared to 20% of men, or a difference of 12%. In
contrast, the percentage difference in Canada between men and women with post-secondary
education and higher in 1991 was just 3% (46% among men and 43% among women).
The clear division of responsibilities for women in charge of domestic functions and childrearing
is based on Confucian ideology as well (Deuchler, 1992). In recent times, a mother's duty has
included the demanding task of seeing to the successful education of children, particularly of sons.
This domestic task is taken so seriously that recent data 4 in 1995 reveal that even among females
only 25% favour female employment under any conditions, whereas 63% favour women's
employment only before marriage, after maturity of children, or both before marriage and after
children's maturity. The other 12% prefer housekeeping role only. The corresponding figures for men
favouring women's employment are lower still - only 17% favour women's employment under any
conditions, 20% think that women should be housekeepers, while 63% favour women's employment
only when they are not involved in childrearing5. This attitude would have most likely translated into
a behaviour noted above - childbearing more concentrated in the age groups 20-29 - in order to
maximize the number of years acceptable for women to be in gainful employment. And, this greater
emphasis on women's domestic and childrearing roles must be a reason why the levels of
employment of Korean women are lower than in Canada.
In addition to these cultural effects on women's education and labour force participation,
Confucianism impacts directly on demographic behaviour, in particular, on the indices that we have
examined above, namely, fertility, nuptiality, divorce, cohabitation and extramarital births.
1. Fertility. One of the cultural implications of ancestor worship and the patrilineal system is son
preference. Even quite recent studies seem to point to a prevailing preference for sons in Korea
(Choe and Kim, 1995)
. A decade ago, Greenhalgh (1985) hypothesized that son preference would
be a barrier to decreasing fertility. But as shown above, this has not hindered the decrease in fertility
to below replacement level. In a climate of declining fertility, Choe and Kim (1995) showed that son
preference had the effect of shifting the decision-making regarding additional children to lower
4 Results from the Social Statistics Survey conducted by the National Statistical Office in
5 In an analysis of married women's attitude towards work based on the 1989 Survey on
Family Life Cycle, Choe et. al (1994) found that "majority of married women felt that women
should work anytime, regardless of marital status or the presences of children." The authors
noted however that this attitude did not translate to practice in that the actual pattern of female
labor force participation in fact depended on marital status and presence of children.
parities and that son preference led to higher mortality of female children. Another strategy that is
being used to get the desired number and sex of children is sex selective abortion. Table 3 shows the
sex ratio at birth and presents a clear evidence of sex selective abortion in South Korea. This
indirectly confirms the strong influence of Confucianism on fertility behaviour.
2. Nuptiality. According to Deuchler (1992), among the consequences of Confucianism's emphasis
on the patrilineal kinship system are the strict gender role division, with women being subordinate
to men, and the greater priority given to father-son relationship than to conjugal relationship.
Throughout her married life, a woman's existence revolves around the male members of her family,
and she remains economically dependent on them. Ritually, as discussed earlier, a married woman's
role is marginal.6
With no substantial changes in their subordinate roles, marriage may not be an attractive prospect
for many women. What has been observed in the case of Japan may be said of Korea as well. A
combination of non-compulsory assumption of adult family roles and non-substantial changes in
gender roles may indeed be the driving force behind the very low fertility and high age at marriage
(Tsuya and Mason, 1995)
. There is no reason why this cannot be true for South Korea. As
shown above, neither the education level nor the labour force participation of Korean women match
those of Canadian women. Yet, the average ages at marriage are not too different in the two
countries. Could it be that the situation of married women in South Korea is less attractive such that
even with limited alternatives, women choose to delay marriage anyway?
3. Divorce. The reasons why women may wish to delay marriage are the very same ones that would
make them stick to it once married. As Deuchler (1992: 273) notes: "For a woman who received
recognition and social standing in society only through marriage, the threat of being expelled from
her husband's family and the social stigma attached to remarriage were effective means of keeping
her obedient and submissive. Since Confucian ideology attributed the ultimate responsibility for
6 It may be noted that women's subordination to and their dependency on men is common
to most traditional societies and is by no means exclusive to Confucian societies.
keeping peace in the domestic sphere to the morally superior husband rather than to the naturally
inferior wife, the censors generally treated a husband harshly if he expelled his wife without weighty
Once married, a woman is exclusively attached to her husband's descent group. For this reason,
remarriage even of widows was negatively viewed by Confucians. Children of second marriages
were also disadvantageously treated.
This combination of difficulty in getting divorced and the social stigma attached to remarriage are
plausible explanations for the lower divorce rates in South Korea compared to that of Canada.
4. Cohabitation. In South Korea, primary and secondary marriages were once institutionalized.
Secondary wives were subordinated to the primary wife and were treated at great disadvantage. In
general, secondary wives came from lower social classes; the unions were mainly for women's
economic support; and they were generally entered into without formal ceremony. Children of
second marriages were not treated as legitimate members of the father's descent group.
Given these traditions, it is easy to understand why cohabitation (as now known in the West) would
be very much unacceptable in Korea. In Canada, for example, cohabitation is mainly differentiated
from marriage by lack of legal ceremony, is entered into by couples regardless of social class, and
the children from such a union are not legally different from those of legally married couples. In
Korea, casual unions of this sort may be taken as akin to "secondary" marriage with greater adverse
consequences for women and children.
5. Extra-marital births. The social stigma attached to secondary marriages and to remarriages
would certainly apply, and with greater force, to extramarital births. With a strong emphasis on
descent line in a Confucian society, social acceptance of births outside of marriage would be difficult
to come about.
In sum, even though industrialization and economic development may lead to shift in values from
materialism to post-materialism and to increases in other intermediate variables like women's
education and labour force participation, it seems to us that long established Confucian traditions
in South Korea would lead to demographic changes that are different from those in Canada or in the
West. Would these changes imply a second demographic transition as understood in the West, or
would they imply something else? Our discussion in this paper points to the more important role
of culture and religion in the second transition than in the first. As long as these two dimensions play
a decisive role in men's and women's lives particularly in the ancient cultural and religious societies,
we see little chance of the Western style of second demographic transition taking place soon in these
societies. What Kipling observed may be no truer than in this context. The developed countries in
the Asian continent take pride in having developed the "Asian way". The East Asian economies
running at full throttle with no sign of major slowdown no longer take their cues from the West,
either in running their economy or in changing their lifestyles and value systems. The latter is
certainly a sine qua non for the second demographic transition.
But, if we were to predict in any meaningful manner, there is a clue to the possibility of onset of the
second transition in those countries that have already experienced the first. That is the changing
values from cohort to cohort. Even now, value changes may be manifesting themselves in some other
ways in countries like South Korea. In Japan, for example, a value change regarding marriage is
reflected in what is referred to as "new single concept", that is, "the enjoyment of single life without
pressure to get married" and the social acceptance of premarital sex
(Retherford, Ogawa, and
. To these authors, these are indications of the "new wave of independence and
individualism among Japanese women". While we think that cultural traditions would keep some
indicators of the Western type of second demographic transition (such as the rates of divorce,
cohabitation, and extramarital births) low for some time to come in South Korea, attitude and
behaviour regarding marriage, children, and family life may already be changing. That is, the second
demographic transition may already be underway but in a uniquely "Eastern" manner. It may just be
a matter of knowing where to look for and of detecting such changes as they occur.
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