Rise of the ‘Sampo’ Generation in Korea

As the Korean population ages, there is ongoing debate on how to “fix” the low birth rate problem. Many new policies have been created in response, but netizen comments reflect a general sentiment that a broken society, not lack of government policy, is the problem. Thus the rise of the “Sampo Generation” – those who choose to give up three things central to what is normally considered a complete life; relationships, marriage, and raising children.

A man pops bubbles representing a child and a family as a woman walks past.

A man pops bubbles representing a child and a family as a woman walks past.

Article from Yonhap News:

“It’s difficult to raise children in this country.” Korea’s birthrate lowest in the world.

Korea’s birthrate ranks 219th out of the world’s 224 nations, lowest in the OECD.

Why is the so-called ‘Sampo’ generation – giving up relationships, marriage, and childbearing – rising?

Korea has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. The crude birth rate, meaning how many births for every 1,000 people, is also among the lowest.

Among the OECD nations, Korea’s birthrate is the very last, while the crude birth rate excluding Japan is the lowest.

There is circumstantial evidence that the conditions for marriage and childcare are not amenable to having a child.

According to the CIA World Factbook, based on this year’s estimates, Korea’s aggregate fertility rate would end up at 1.25, 219th out of the 224 countries evaluated.

The aggregate fertility rate is the number of children a woman is likely to have over the course of her lifetime.

Singapore came in last at 0.80, and Macao second-to-last at 0.93.

Taiwan came 222nd at 1.11, Hong Kong in 221st at 1.17, and the British Virgin Islands tied with Korea for 219th at 1.25.

Those with the highest aggregate birth rates were African nations. Nigeria came in first with 6.89, and in descending order, Mali (6.16), Burundi (6.14), Somalia (6.08), and Uganda (5.97).

Among the top 50 are African nations, as well as Afghanistan (5.34, 9th), East Timor (5.11, 15th), and Iraq (3.41, 46th) – nations that have all suffered recent wars.

Among the OECD nations, Korea came in dead last.

[Among the OECD] Israel at 75th came in the highest (2.62), with Mexico (2.29) at 94th, France (2.08) at 112th, New Zealand (2.05) at 117th, and USA (2.01) at 122nd.

The two nations with the largest populations, India and China, came in 80th (2.51) and 185th (1.55) respectively.

North Korea came in 129th (1.98), and Japan in 208th (1.4), both ranking slightly higher than South Korea.

The rate of births per 1,000 people, or the crude birth rate, is in a similar state.

Korea’s crude birth rate, at 8.26, ranked 220th out of 224 nations.

Monaco, a small country in the Mediterranean, [had a crude birth rate of] 6.72, was the lowest. The Saint Pierre et Miquelon Islands in North America were in 223rd with a crude birth rate of 7.7. Japan came in 222nd with a rate of 8.07, following Singapore’s 221st ranking with a rate of 8.1.

Niger’s crude birth rate ranked first at 46.12, followed by Mali (45.53), Uganda (44.17), Zambia (42.46), and Burkina Faso (42.42)

Mexico ranked highest among the OECD member countries at 91st with 19.02. Israel, Turkey, Ireland and the US ranked at 101st (18.44), 114th (16.86), 132nd (15.18) and 150th (13.42).

In 86th was India with a rate of 19.89, China with 12.17 at 163rd, and North Korea took the 138th spot with a rate of 14.51.

A couple is crushed by the weight of their house.  Graphics showing "house poor" divided by age and income.  The blue circle represents the   house poor among age range, along with their yearly salary.

A couple is crushed by the weight of their house. Graphics showing “house poor” divided by age and income. The blue circle represents the house poor among age range, along with their yearly salary.

Korean people’s reluctance to have children is the main reason for Korea’s near last-place aggregate birth rate and crude birth rate.

As women participate more in society, they also marry later. On top of this, saving up enough jeonse for a newlywed home has become overly burdensome due to higher jeonse prices.

A new term, “Sampo Generation,” has been coined to describe those who respond to the current societal situation by giving up relationships, marriage, and child-rearing.

Low birth rate from now on will bring about a decrease in population, there will be a shortage in the working population that will lead to decreased productivity, decrease in consumption, and so on.

Comments from Naver:

The President doesn’t have kids. Why should we?


Can’t get married, let alone have children.


With the current price of things, if you were to earn a gross income of 40 million won a year, honestly it would be a stretch to take care of just one person and have a car. You can think about getting married, having kids or whatever only if there is some money left over. Is having a child just the end of it? So you’re not gonna give it any education? Ke ke, are they just telling only rich people to have kids? Tsk tsk


Before anything, it’s because raising children is difficult. Even if you try to raise a child, it could die at kindergarten, die on a field trip, die on an MT, or get bullied and kill itself…


This kind of news is good. Fortunately, it seems many people might not have children and make them suffer in this country.


This is a country where you have to be on time to work in the morning but there’s no set time to finish work in the evening, and they trick you into not even getting minimum wage. This is Korea where there are countless companies that make you stay busy and work overtime, but don’t properly pay for it. To make competition, they feign multiculturalism to get foreign workers, opening the flood gates indiscriminately for undocumented foreigners…


Stop just asking us to have babies over and over. Why not get some policies that make a country in which we want to have them? Or, just ask the rich Chaebol to have some kids. Why are you making a fuss?


I’m in my late 20’s but I can’t even dream of getting married… I have a girlfriend but marriage? There’s no money I have saved. I only make 20 million won a year. It would be too hard to make a living with a child.


You can’t raise children on love alone.


The economic structure is the problem. Even if you work for the rich your whole life, you can’t get out of poverty. It’s an endless cycle. It’s not that I don’t want kids, it’s that I can’t have kids.


Best in the world at the worst things, worst at the best things! Ke ke ke


Number one in the OECD in rates of minimum wage workers, suicide rates, occupational fatalities, and elderly poverty rates. Number two in yearly working hours. You can make a huge deal over a national income of 30,000 dollars, but when there are over ten million people who can’t even make 1.39 million won a month, when there are over 2.08 million people who can’t even make minimum wage which is less than half the minimum wage in advanced countries…hey, there won’t be enough slaves to exploit and get taxes off of in the future, ke ke.


As we’re always comparing ourselves to other OECD member countries, try comparing something else, too. Compare working hours and think about how much people get for those. Think about the fathers who have children right now. How much can they play with them? Look at the advanced countries – every weekend they’re with their kids… but Koreans? Got enough time? Got enough money? Can barely buy a house, and then just look at the education policies. Private academy fees for the kids are no joke, either. Do you think it’s like the old days, when we could just pop out kids and get them food? If you think that’s it, then don’t have kids. Don’t get married, either.


This is hilarious. We’re born as the same humans, but our lives are too different. If you’ve got money and status, you can have a child and raise it well. If you don’t have any money or status, just getting married is a burden. Are people all equal? Really, I’ll curse Korea until the day I die.


If you just pop out kids, hoping that they will grow up and help you out, everyone will suffer. If you aren’t confident to make your family happy, just live alone.


I’ve got two children. Psy’s song “Father” makes me cry. If you are willing to work like a dog, go ahead and have kids. Otherwise, the answer is living a free and good lifestyle with no kids. It’s the truth.


After some time on Earth, I realize marriage is unnecessary. I am wasting my life on house chores, childcare, and taking care of jesa for the in-laws. Even though my job wasn’t the best, living alone and still working there would’ve been ten times better an investment in myself. My husband just lives for his clubs, splitting his money on his hobbies and sporting events, while I just climb the nearby hill or hang out in the neighborhood public library to save money. I devote my life for my family but if they’re in a bad mood, they easily get annoyed by me. What am I, a modern slave? The powerful people would only care about population for getting taxes and selling things for a living. Marriage is just a prison to ordinary people!


But we’d be the number one country for politicians to enjoy their lives, right?


We’re a country that asks people to work till late to pay taxes so the government will watch children till late hours….. What a rotten country. Before running after-school classes or whatever, make it possible to raise children with only one of the parents working outside… Kids should be raised by their parents…tsk tsk


It’s hard to raise children only with a man’s salary in this country. You can only live here if the woman earns money, too. How can the birth rate go up?

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