In many places today, younger generations face difficult living conditions. Sadly, many are dealing with deep hopelessness. But Christians aren’t called to judge the legitimacy of God’s purposes based on our personal situation. Whether in the age of Korea’s birth control policy or today during the fears of ultra-low fertility, God’s command is unchanged. My desire is that young Christians won’t give up on dating, marriage, and childbirth.
About 10 years ago, when I was pastoring in the United States, I was invited to speak at a college student rally in Korea. After returning home, I received a question via email from a student who attended the event: “Have you heard of the ‘3-po generation’? What does the gospel mean for us living in such a generation?”
As someone who hadn’t been living in Korea for a while, I wasn’t familiar with the term. Essentially, this group (also known as the Sampo generation) was giving up on three things: dating, marriage, and having kids. Because of educational costs, rising inflation, and a difficult job market, young people in Korea were abandoning any plans for marriage and childbearing.
Over the years, I heard more stories. The 5-po generation also gave up on the dream of a career and home ownership. Subsequent generations have apparently given up on human relationships, hope, and ultimately life. In Korea, this is known as the N-po generation.
I believe these terms are based on excessive pessimism, but they express the seriousness of our society’s problems. They also reflect the frightening reality facing the younger generation, and not just in Korea—so we shouldn’t discount them.
From 2018–21, Korea had the lowest fertility rate in the world. And the trend is expected to continue for several years. Korea is now labeled as a “PINK” country, which stands for “poor income, no kids.” (Compare this with China’s “DINK” generation of double income, no kids.)
Analysts point out that the 1997 foreign exchange crisis was an inflection point where the low fertility rate began to appear prominently in Korea. The crisis led to large-scale corporate restructuring, significant unemployment, and a labor flexibility policy that motivates companies to eliminate regular employees in favor of temporary hires. Low wages are common among those who work for small companies or who are temporary workers, factors shown to contribute directly to low fertility rates.
Korea also holds the highest elderly poverty rate. Increasing suicide among the elderly intensifies people’s fears of falling into the low-income class. Meanwhile, the decline in marriage and fertility rates is accelerated by the high cost of living expenses, housing, and private education along with the costs associated with the shortened career of women who bear children.