Academic journal article Demographic Research

Educational Differentials in Cohort Fertility during the Fertility Transition in South Korea

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Educational Differentials in Cohort Fertility during the Fertility Transition in South Korea

Article excerpt

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1. Introduction

Women's education is usually associated with lower fertility at both the population and the individual levels (Bongaarts 2003; Caldwell 1982; Castro Martín 1995; Cochrane 1979; Jeffery and Basu 1996; Jejeebhoy 1995). However, the empirical association between changes in educational levels and changes in fertility rates at the population level is more complex. Educational change is associated with a range of economic and social changes which can alter the link between education and childbearing and/or the intensity of the link. As a result, although rising education generally leads to falling birth rates, the importance of educational trends varies. For instance, compositional change in education levels was found to account for 70% of the decline in fertility in Brazil between the 1935-1939 and 1951-1953 birth cohorts (Lam and Duryea 1999), but only about one-third of the decline in fertility between 1980 and 2000 in Iran (Abbasi-Shavazi et al. 2008). The impact of educational change likely depends on the starting levels of education and fertility, as well as other contextual factors. Despite the theoretical importance of education as a contributing factor in the fertility transition, there have been relatively few longitudinal studies on education and fertility.

In this article, I use census data from South Korea to analyze changing associations between education and fertility, and look at how compositional changes in education contributed to the decline in fertility across the transition from a high to a lowest-low level. South Korea (hereafter Korea) experienced one of the fastest fertility declines in the world. The Korean total fertility rate was 6.0 in the 1960s, but it had plummeted to sub-replacement levels by 1983 (Statistics Korea 2014). It took Korea less than 25 years to go from a pre-transitional stage to sub-replacement levels of fertility. In England, by contrast, this process took almost 130 years. Over that period, there were marked improvements in women's education. The college entrance rate among female high school graduates was 22.2% in 1980, but had reached nearly 80% by the late 2000s (Statistics Korea 2010). Among the 1960 birth cohort, the proportion of women who had graduated from high school was negligible; but among the 1970 birth cohort, the share was more than 95%. The combination of a dramatic decline in fertility and a rapid increase in women's education makes the country an ideal case for studying this relationship during the fertility transition. Given the general association between fertility and education, we can hypothesize that the expansion of women's education was a major factor that contributed to the rapid transition from high to low fertility rates in Korea.

In this paper, I explore educational differentials in fertility and the changes over the course of the fertility transition in Korea. I briefly review theories on these differences by educational level and describe the Korean fertility transition. In the results section, I first display the trend of educational differentials in completed cohort fertility among women born between 1926 and 1970, and then examine the association between changes in fertility and in the composition of women's educational attainment levels. I also analyze the education-specific pattern of falling fertility over the transition. The key findings and their implications are discussed in the final section. Throughout this paper, I utilize completed cohort fertility to measure fertility instead of the period total fertility rate (TFR), which is often distorted or underestimated in places like Korea, where ages at childbearing change rapidly (Bongaarts and Feeney 1998). This paper contributes to the literature on the association between women's education and fertility, and has implications for population policies in both developing and developed countries.

2. Educational differentials in fertility over the fertility transition

Despite the long-standing interest among researchers in the association between education and fertility, few theories on how educational differentials change over time have been offered. …

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