South Korea's increasing number of delayed marriages is one of the biggest factors behind the country's low birth rate, a report has shown.
According to Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, the out-of-wedlock birth rate in South Korea in 2010 was 2.1 per cent, which was dramatically lower than the rate in countries such as Ireland and Norway.
Norway's out-of-wedlock fertility rate was 55 per cent, while Ireland's was 64.1 per cent in the same year. Meanwhile, Japan's rate was 2.2 per cent.
"South Korea and Japan are countries where most people do not choose to have children unless they are married," said researcher Cho Sung-ho from KIHASA.
"This is why marriage is a very important factor in the countries' fertility rates."
The number of Koreans who put off marriage has increased dramatically.
According to Statistics Korea, 50.2 per cent of Korean men born between 1976 and 1980 were single for the period of 2006 to 2010, while only 13.9 per cent of those born between 1956 and 1960 were single when they were the same age.
On the other hand, only 5.3 per cent of Korean women born from 1956 to 1960 were single in their early 30s, while 29.1 per cent of those born from 1976 to 1980 were unmarried at the same age.
One of the main reasons many here are delaying their marriage is the high cost of housing and weddings.
According to the local wedding consulting firm Duowed, Korean couples spent an average of 238 million won ($216,000) on their wedding ceremonies and housing in the past two years. On average, men shouldered 64 per cent of the total cost.
Cho mentioned in his report that modern South Korean demographics ― a low fertility rate and an aging society ― are similar to those experienced by Japan.
According to Cho, about 20 per cent of all Japanese men, and 10 per cent of Japanese women, were single as of 2010.
"Japan's two-decade-long period of economic stagnation resulted in a growing number of people who chose to live alone," he said.
"As the South Korean economy is expected to experience slow growth, we may be following in Japan's footsteps."
According to Cho, Japan tries to help young, single job seekers find jobs as part of its measures to boost its fertility rate. South Korea's demographic policies, on the other hand, have mostly focused on married couples who do not have children.
"It is necessary to support young people so they can experience dating, marriage and childbirth without too many difficulties," Cho wrote.
"In order to do that, creating quality jobs and support programs for job seekers must be introduced as part of measures to tackle the country's low fertility rate."
South Korea's birthrate stood at 1.18 children per woman last year ― the lowest among OECD member countries.
If the current birth rate remains steady, almost 15 per cent of the population will be 65 or older by 2018, and the figure will rise to 50 per cent by 2100, according to KIHASA.