Education in Korea
The cost of education may be the main reason why South Koreans are having so few babies. In surveys, they cite financial burdens as the biggest obstacle and single out education as one of the heaviest components. Thomas Anderson and Hans-Peter Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania have shown that the South Korean provinces with the lowest fertility rates are also the places where families spend the most on education.
This spending, however, no longer yields rich returns. Going to university racks up tuition fees and keeps young people out of the job market for four years. After graduation it takes an average of 11 months to find a first job. Once found, the jobs remain better paid and more secure than the positions available to high-school graduates, but the gap is narrowing. The McKinsey Global Institute reckons that the lifetime value of a college graduate's improved earnings no longer justifies the expense required to obtain the degree. The typical Korean would be better off attending a public secondary school and diving straight into work.
If the private costs are no longer worthwhile, the social costs are even greater. Much of South Korea's discretionary spending on private tuition is socially wasteful. The better marks it buys do not make the student more useful to the economy. If one student spends more to improve his ranking, he may land a better job, but only at the expense of someone else.
…South Korea's education arms race poses a puzzle. Students spend vast amounts of time and money to move up in the queue for good jobs. But queues are needed only for things that are in short supply. Why should good jobs be rationed? The number of "good" employers should, in principle, expand in line with the scale and skill of the available workforce. So perhaps the preoccupation with educational qualifications reflects problems in the labour market.