Monday, February 28, 2022

Post-mortem of a moral panic


Cemetery of the Kamloops Aboriginal Community (Rouillard 2022). Over time, wooden markers crumble away, and even graveyards end up abandoned and forgotten.



A year ago, ground-penetrating radar revealed 215 anomalies in an orchard behind the former Kamloops Residential Indian School. There had, in fact, been rumors of secret burials at that location, and the anomalies seemed to confirm those rumors:


The chief of a neighbouring nation, Michael LeBourdais, says his uncle, a boarder in the 1950s, told him that boys were forced to fight and the winner, or loser, was then forced to go dig holes in the orchard where the alleged graves were found. His uncle seemed convinced that they were graves. "Dig a hole, someone disappears. Dig another hole, someone disappears," he told her. Chief Harvey McLeod, from another nearby nation, also a former student of the school, says a lady confessed to him, sobbing, "I was one of the people who buried them." (Lisée 2022).


The media didn’t take long to pick up the story and ignite a firestorm of indignation over the “mass grave.” In the weeks that followed, a dozen churches were burned to the ground and many more were vandalized (Wikipedia 2022a; Dzsurdzsa 2021). Although most of them were Catholic, presumably because the school had been run by a Catholic religious order, the wave of arson also included two churches that were Anglican and another that was Coptic (!). The destruction was openly supported by many Canadians, including some in leading positions. The executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, Harsha Walia, retweeted a news item about the burning of two more Catholic churches and added: “Burn it all down.” She later clarified her statement, saying it was "a call to dismantle all structures of violence, including the state, settler-colonialism, empire, the border etc." She nonetheless resigned (Smith 2021).


Prime Minister Trudeau remained silent for a week before saying that church burning was “not the way to go.” He added: “We must work together to right past wrongs” (Malone 2021). 

Is there really a mass grave?

What wrongs, exactly, were done at the Kamloops school? Last August I wrote a post on the subject and made a few points.


First, there is no “mass grave.” The burials would have taken place over a long span of time from the opening of the school in 1890 to its takeover by the federal government in 1969. The radar survey initially found 215 sites that might be graves. That figure was later lowered to 200 “potential burial sites.” Even if we accept that all 200 were, in fact, burials, that number would still be consistent with the death rate of Indigenous communities at the time. According to the 1906 annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs, "the Indian population of Canada has a mortality rate of more than double that of the whole population, and in some provinces more than three times."


Second, at least initially, the death rate was relatively low among the students at that school. If we look at the annual reports for the Kamloops residential school (which are available online for its early years), we see that the first nine years had no deaths at all. Then from 1899 to 1913 there were 12, for an annual death rate of 1.34%. The causes were pneumonia (2 deaths), tuberculosis (1), consumption (1), pulmonary disease (1), hemoptysis (1), rheumatic fever (1), meningitis (1), “took place at her home” (1), heart disease (1), measles (1), and diarrhea (1). The first five were probably all tuberculosis. The deaths began to happen three years after a doubling of enrolment, probably because of the higher risk of infection by other pupils.


A death rate of 1.34% is comparable to the death rate of young people in Indigenous communities at that time. It is also far below the estimates put forward by Jeff Rosenthal in a study for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Last January, this question was thoroughly examined in an article written by Jacques Rouillard, a history professor at the Université de Montréal. He made several points.


·         In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that 3,200 Indigenous children had died at residential schools. That estimate, however, was based on two overlapping data sources. Because many students were counted twice, the estimate may be inflated by as much as one third.


·         The Commission estimated that the death rate at residential schools from 1921 to 1950 was twice as high as that of Canadian youth in general. That estimate is probably inflated (see previous point) but is still comparable to the death rate on reserves at the time. The cause of death was usually tuberculosis or influenza. During the 1950-1965 period, residential schools had a death rate comparable to that of Canadian youth in general. The improvement was probably due to the advent of streptomycin and other new antibiotics during the 1940s.


·         The Commission identified the names of 51 children who had died at Kamloops Residential Indian School between 1915 and 1964. Rouillard was able to find information on those deaths from records at Library and Archives Canada and from death certificates at the British Columbia Archives. Two of the deaths had been reported twice. Of the 49 children who actually died, there were records for 35 of them:


Seventeen died in hospital and eight on their own reserves as a result of illness or accidents. Four were the subject of autopsies and seven of coroners’ inquests. As for burial sites, 24 are buried in their home Indian Reserve cemetery, and four at the Kamloops Indian Reserve cemetery. For the rest of the 49 children, information is either missing or requires that the complete death certificate in the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency be consulted. This is a far cry from the unverified claim that authorities overlooked or somehow covered up their deaths, or that the parents were not informed, or the remains never returned home. Most were informed and most were returned home. (Rouillard 2022)


·         Kamloops Residential Indian School was located on the Kamloops reserve. As Rouillard notes, “is it really credible that the remains of 200 children were buried clandestinely in a mass grave, on the reserve itself, without any reaction from the band council until last summer?”


·         There is no reason to believe that the 49 children were not given a decent burial. It was common practice to mark Indigenous graves with wooden crosses, which in time would decompose and crumble away:


According to historian Jim Miller of the University of Saskatchewan, “the remains of children discovered in Marieval and Kamloops had been buried in cemeteries according to Catholic rites, under wooden crosses that quickly crumbled.” “The wooden cross was a Catholic burial marker for the poor,” confirms Brian Gettler of the University of Toronto. (Rouillard 2022)


But how could there be 200 burials when only 49 students died at the school? When the initial estimate of 215 “potential burial sites” was revised downward to 200, we were told that identification of such sites was difficult because of disturbances in the ground due to tree roots, metal, and stones (Rouillard 2022). The figure of 200 sites is thus very approximate. The real figure will remain unknown until the site is excavated and the remains examined. Why hasn’t that been done? As Jean-François Lisée notes in his comments on Rouillard’s article: “Why wasn't the site immediately designated a crime scene? Why weren't our best crime scene experts sent there?”


The inaction, in itself, says a lot.


I suspect there is an abandoned graveyard behind the school. It probably contains the remains of students who had to be buried on the school grounds because of disease and/or because the student came from another reserve and could not easily be transported home. Most of the burials probably date from the school’s early years, after which there may have been a few isolated burials—unborn babies that some of the female students had naturally or deliberately miscarried (some students were as old as sixteen). Although the Catholic Church does perform burials in such circumstances, the service is simple and done with none of the publicity that comes with a regular funeral—hence the rumors of secret burials, which through telling and retelling became grotesquely magnified.


We have no first-hand or even second-hand accounts, but there are rumors of abortions at the school:


Another survivor in the book, Eddy Jules, spoke of abortions and a furnace.


"All of us that were going to school would hear the clang, and we would say, 'Oh, that's so and so's friend, and they gave her an abortion,'" said Jules, noting the strangeness of "fire in September or October or November when it's not cold."


[…] "Some survivors talked about infants who were born to young girls at the residential schools, infants who had been fathered by priests, were taken away from them and deliberately killed — sometimes thrown into furnaces, we were told," said Sinclair. (Barrera 2021)


Please note that this is hearsay. It is less verifiable than the allegations of Satanic ritual abuse in American preschools back in the 1980s. Those allegations at least had the support of first-hand accounts … by children, of course. Preschool teachers had their lives ruined by bizarre stories that proved to be totally unfounded, including stories that featured flying witches, underground tunnels, and travel in a hot-air balloon (Wikipedia 2022b).




Barrera, J. (2021). Lost children. The threat of death was part of life at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. So why is it so hard to determine how many children died there? CBC News


Dzsurdzsa, C. (2021). Update: A map of the 68 churches that have been vandalized or burned since the residential schools announcement. True North, August 23


Frost, P. (2021). Canada’s moral panic. Evo and Proud, August 4


Lisée, Jean-François. (2022). Mysteries of Kamloops (translation). Le Devoir, February 5


Malone, K.G. (2021). Politicians, Indigenous leaders say burning churches not the way to get justice. CTV News, June 30


Rouillard, J. (2022). In Kamloops, Not One Body Has Been Found. Dorchester Review. January 11


Smith, C. (2021). B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director Harsha Walia at centre of social media firestorm. The Georgia Straight, July 5


Wikipedia. (2022a) 2021 Canadian church burnings


Wikipedia (2022b). McMartin preschool trial.

Monday, February 21, 2022

A natural vaccine?


Geographic distribution of the G allele (TIMPRSS2), which is associated with a higher death rate from COVID-19. It’s most frequent on the Indo-Gangetic Plain, which has the longest continuous history of urban settlement in South Asia. Did that environment select for susceptibility to coronaviruses as a way to boost resistance to deadlier respiratory viruses?



The common cold is caused by over 200 strains of rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, adenoviruses, and enteroviruses. Coronaviruses differ from other respiratory viruses in one key respect: they can enter lung tissue via the ACE2 receptor. So if that receptor is altered to allow easier entry, the host would become more susceptible to the common cold but not to other respiratory diseases, including much deadlier ones that cause tuberculosis, pneumonia, or pneumonic plague.


The last point is important because there is evidence that a viral infection can protect against subsequent infection by respiratory viruses. When mice are infected with γherpesvirus 68, which is similar to Epstein-Barr virus, there is production of large quantities of IFN-γ and activation of macrophages that protect against Listeria monocytogenes (which causes listeriosis), Mycobacterium tuberculosis (which causes tuberculosis), and Yersinia pestis (which causes bubonic and pneumonic plague) (Barton et al., 2007; Miller et al., 2019). A cytomegalovirus infection likewise protects against Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia pestis (Barton et al., 2007).


Coevolution between coronaviruses and early urban settlement


Beginning some 10,000 years ago, hunting and gathering gave way to farming, and nomadism to sedentism. People began to live in progressively larger settlements along the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and the Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Indus and the Ganges in northern India, and the Yellow and the Yangtze in China. That is where large numbers of humans first lived in close proximity to each other, and they were particularly vulnerable to the spread of respiratory diseases from one person to another. There may thus have been selection among them for increased susceptibility to coronaviruses, which are normally mild in their effects, as a means to increase resistance to deadlier respiratory viruses.


A recent Indian study by Pandey et al. (2022) suggests that coronavirus susceptibility may have coevolved with risk of infection by life-threatening respiratory viruses like tuberculosis, pneumonia, and pneumonic plague, at least in South Asia. People are more susceptible to infection by coronaviruses if they have the G allele of the TMPRSS2 gene. The research team found that the G allele is significantly associated with a higher fatality rate for COVID-19, apparently because it helps coronaviruses enter lung tissue via the ACE2 receptor.


Pandey et al. (2022) also charted the geographic distribution of the G allele in South Asia. This allele is most frequent among inhabitants of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, i.e., the fertile lowlands that border the Indus and Ganges rivers of northern India and Pakistan. This is also where urbanization has existed for the longest continuous time in South Asia, specifically since the early first millennium BCE. The Indo-Gangetic Plain has had "an uninterrupted sequence of economic development, state formation, and cultural expansion affecting the entire subcontinent as well as Central, East and Southeast Asia" (Heitzman 2008, pp. 12-13).


These findings are roughly consistent with an earlier finding by the same research team. Srivastava et al. (2020) found that an ACE2 allele, at rs2258666, has a negative relationship with the fatality rate for COVID-19. It is also most frequent in the northeast of India, which until recent times was sparsely populated, and whose inhabitants lived in dispersed rural settlements.




Barton, E.S., D.W. White, J.S. Cathelyn, K.A. Brett-McClellan, M. Engle, et al. (2007). Herpesvirus latency confers symbiotic protection from bacterial infection. Nature

447: 326-329.


Frost, P. (2020). Does a commensal relationship exist between coronaviruses and some human populations? Journal of Molecular Genetics 3(2): 1-2.


Heitzman, J. (2008). The City in South Asia. London: Routledge


Miller, H.E., K.E. Johnson, V.L. Tarakanova, and R.T. Robinson. (2019). γ-herpesvirus latency attenuates Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in mice. Tuberculosis 116: 56-60.


Pandey, R.K., A. Srivastava, P.P. Singh, and G. Chaubey. (2022). Genetic association of TMPRSS2 rs2070788 polymorphism with COVID-19 case fatality rate among Indian populations. Infection, Genetics and Evolution 98


Shirato, K., M. Kawase, and S. Matsuyama. (2018). Wild-type human coronaviruses prefer cell-surface TMPRSS2 to endosomal cathepsins for cell entry. Virology 517: 9-15.


Srivastava, A., A. Bandopadhyay, D. Das, R.K. Pandey, V. Singh, N. Khanam, N. Srivastava, P.P. Singh, P.K. Dubey, A. Pathak, P. Gupta, N. Rai, G.N.N. Sultana, and G. Chaubey. (2020). Genetic Association of ACE2 rs2285666 Polymorphism with COVID-19 Spatial Distribution in India. Frontiers in Genetics. September 25


Monday, February 14, 2022

Light skin preference in Malaysia


Light skin, especially for women, is idealized much more in Asian advertisements than in American ones. Tamannaah Bhatia Lakme (Wikicommons)



In Malaysia, like elsewhere in Asia, there is a general preference for lighter skin, as shown by a recent analysis of Malaysian blog entries (Izazi 2021). Typical entries include the following:


Many girls desire light skin these days, when its actually natural for Asians to have a light brown skin... I wonder why are people so crazy about having light skin?


Most women around me are obsessed with light skin.


Malaysians (not just Malays) are obsessed with light skin. I guess it's not just Malaysians, but Asian as a whole


Izazi (2021, pp. 191-194) attributes this colorism to European influence, beginning with colonialism and continuing with Western domination of the media, particularly in fashion and entertainment. As Izazi herself notes, however, this explanation doesn't fit well with certain facts:


·         In advertisements, lighter skin has greater appeal to Asians, especially Asian women, than to white Americans (Krishen et al. 2014).

·         The ideal skin color is actually darker in American beauty advertisements than in Chinese beauty advertisements (Xie and Zhang 2013).


Of course, if you go back in time, to the turn of the 20th century, you'll find that that the ideal skin color was just as white in the United States as in China. All of that changed with the tanning fad, which took off in the 1920s and darkened the desired skin tone for both men and women throughout the West (Segrave 2005).


The "European influence" explanation is harder to reconcile with the fact that Asian societies preferred lighter skin in women long before European colonialism (Frost 1988; van den Berghe and Frost 1986). In the case of the Malay peoples of Malaysia and Indonesia, this preference has been noted by ethnographers going back to the 19th century:


The color of the western Malays is light yellow-brown with more or less of an olive tint.  The pale yellow shade is therefore the color preferred by the Malays; they call it bingai.  The Westerner compares the fairness of the bosom of his beloved with the whiteness of snow, the Malay with the yellow of gold; nothing is more beautiful to him.  It is therefore not surprising that he tries to heighten the pale yellow color by artificial means. (Wilken 1893, p. 303)


... the Balinese admire a smooth, clear skin the colour of gold, and pretty girls have a mortal dread of being sunburned, so they do not like to go unnecessarily into the sun. (Covarrubias 1950, p. 118)


Originally, the moon is supposed to have been a human being, a girl, with an especially white skin.   ... When the Toradja [of Sulawesi Island] speaks of the moon, he thinks of a beautiful woman.  The beauty of a woman on earth is often compared to that of the moon. (Adriani and Kruijt 1950, p. 572)


This preference was, and still is, much stronger for women than for men, and not simply because physical appearance is less important for men than for women. In fact, there was a tendency among the female Malaysian bloggers to prefer darker-skinned men:


Dark-skinned men are sexy


Light-skinned men looks like a mummy's boy. Dark-skinned men look independent. I like that. (Izazi 2021, pp. 212-213)


This finding parallels that of Harvey (1995) who found that fair-skinned African American men are seen as less masculine than their darker-skinned counterparts. Conversely, fair-skinned African American women are seen as more feminine than their darker-skinned counterparts (Abrams et al., 2020). Wagatsuma (1967) reported a similar finding among Japanese women:


With only a few exceptions, the women interviewed voiced the opinion that Japanese women like light-brown-skinned men, seeing them as more masculine than pale-skinned men. Many women distinguished between "a beautiful man" and "an attractive man." A beautiful man (bi-danshi) is white-skinned and delicately featured like a Kabuki actor. Although he is admired and appreciated almost aesthetically, he is, at the same time, considered somewhat "too feminine" for a woman to depend upon. There is sometimes a reference to the saying, "A beautiful man lacks money and might." On the other hand, an attractive man (ko-danshi) is dusky-skinned, energetic, masculine, and dependable. Women often associate light-brown skin in a man with a dauntless spirit, a capacity for aggressive self-assertion, and a quality of manly sincerity.


In those cases where Malaysian women preferred lighter-skinned Malaysian men, the stated reason was that they looked cleaner or were more likely to produce lighter-skinned children:


Light-skinned men looks clean.


I want a light-skinned man because that will ensure that my child will be light too. If I choose a dark-skinned man, how if my child turned out dark? (Izazi 2021, p. 211)


This interaction between gender and skin color seems to have a profound psychological and even biological basis. Women are universally paler than men, who conversely are ruddier and browner, this sex difference being greatest in medium-colored populations and smallest in very dark and very light populations. (Frost 2007). Wherever the visual arts developed, in regions as far apart as Egypt, Japan, and Meso-America, female figures were given a lighter coloring and male figures a darker one (Capart 1905, 26-27; Eaverly 2013; Soustelle 1970, 130; Tegner 1992; Wagatsuma 1967). Likewise, women's makeup developed in different cultures to produce the same effect of lighter facial color and greater contrast with lip and eye color (Russell 2010).


In pre-Columbian times, this sex difference caused most of the variation in skin color that people usually encountered. It could thus serve as a gender cue. In fact, subjects can reliably tell male and female facial photos apart even when the photos are blurred and differ only in color (Dupuis-Roy et al. 2009; Frost 2011; Russell 2003; Russell and Sinha 2007; Tarr et al. 2001).


This gendered perception of skin color probably influences human behavior in many ways, not only in facilitating gender recognition but also in modifying relations between men and women and between men.


In saying this, I'm not denying the role of the media, particularly the visual media of advertising and entertainment, in shaping perceptions of skin color. I would argue, however, that the visual media have been acting on pre-existing propensities, in most cases amplifying them and in some cases suppressing them. For instance, there was until recent times a tendency to repress eroticization of dark male skin, largely because of its ethnic/racial connotations but also because it projects an image of aggressive hypermasculinity that has been discouraged in pacified societies that limit the use of violence to the State.




Abrams, J.A., F.Z. Belgrave, C.D. Williams, and M.L.Maxwell. (2020). African American adolescent girls’ beliefs about skin tone and colorism. Journal of Black Psychology 46(2-3): 169-194. doi:10.1177%2F0095798420928194


Adriani, N. and A.C. Kruijt. (1950). De Bare'e sprekende Toradjas van Midden-Celebes. Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers.


Capart, J. (1905). Primitive Art in Egypt. London: H. Grevel.


Covarrubias, M. (1950). Island of Bali. New York: Knopf.


Dupuis-Roy, N., I. Fortin, D. Fiset, and F. Gosselin. (2009). Uncovering gender discrimination cues in a realistic setting. Journal of Vision 9 (2), art. 10, 1-8. doi:10.1167/9.2.10


Eaverly, M.A. (2013). Tan Men/Pale Women. Color and Gender in Archaic Greece and Egypt, a Comparative Approach. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/mpub.3080238


Frost, P. (1988). Human skin color: a possible relationship between its sexual dimorphism and its social perception. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 32(1): 38-58.


Frost, P. (2007). Comment on Human skin-color sexual dimorphism: A test of the sexual selection hypothesis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133(1): 779-81. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20555


Frost, P. (2011). Hue and luminosity of human skin: a visual cue for gender recognition and other mental tasks. Human Ethology Bulletin 26(2): 25-34.  


Harvey, A.R. (1995). The Issue of Skin Color in Psychotherapy with African Americans. Families in Society 76(1):3-10. doi:10.1177%2F104438949507600101


Izazi, Z.Z. (2021). Skin colour discourse on the Internet: A content analysis of blog entries by Malaysian bloggers. Southeast Asia Journal 31(2): 191-227.


Krishen, A. S., LaTour, M. S., & Alishah, E. J. (2014). Asian females in an advertising context: Exploring skin tone tension. Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising 35(1): 71-85.


Russell, R. (2003). Sex, beauty, and the relative luminance of facial features. Perception 32(9): 1093-107. doi:10.1068/p5101.


Russell, R. (2010). Why cosmetics work. In R. Adams, N. Ambady, K. Nakayama, and S. Shimojo (Eds.), The Science of Social Vision (pp. 186-203), Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Russell, R. and P. Sinha. (2007). Real-world face recognition: The importance of surface reflectance properties. Perception 36(9): 1368-74. doi:10.1068/p5779.


Segrave, K. (2005). Suntanning in 20th Century America. Jefferson (North Carolina): McFarland & Company.


Soustelle, J. (1970). The Daily Life of the Aztecs. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.


Tarr, M.J., D. Kersten, Y. Cheng, and B. Rossion. (2001). It's Pat! Sexing faces using only red and green. Journal of Vision 1 (3): 337, 337a. doi:10.1167/1.3.337.


Tegner, E. (1992). Sex differences in skin pigmentation illustrated in art. The American Journal of Dermatopathology 14(3): 283-87. doi:10.1097/00000372-199206000-00016.


van den Berghe, P. L. and P. Frost. (1986). Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism, and sexual selection: A case of gene-culture co-evolution? Ethnic and Racial Studies 9(1): 87-113.


Wagatsuma, H. (1967). The social perception of skin color in Japan. Daedalus 96:407-443.


Wilken, G.A. (1893). Handleiding voor de Vergelijkende Volkenkunde van Nederlandsch-Indie. Leiden: Brill.


Xie, Q., & Zhang, M. (2013). White or tan? A cross-cultural analysis of skin beauty advertisements between China and the United States. Asian Journal of Communication 23(5): 538-554.

Monday, February 7, 2022

My Mistake


In 2010, over 10% of all South Korean marriages had at least one immigrant partner, and the trend seemed ever upward. It wasn't. The authorities responded by making immigration a lot harder for the foreign wives of lonely South Korean men (Statistics Korea 2021, p. 1)



In 2011, Faustino John Lim (2011) wrote about the changing demographics of South Korea, particularly its rural areas, and predicted that by 2020 a third of all children in the country would be born to non-Korean mothers.


Currently, a third of all marriages occurring in South Korea's rural areas involve migrant wives—mostly from China and Southeast Asia—who have been matched with South Korean men. An increasing gender imbalance tilting toward males ensures this phenomenon will continue, with jarring implications for the myth of Korean ethnic homogeneity.


In June, the government announced that the number of children with at least one parent of non-Korean heritage reached 150,000 this year, a number that has increased fourfold over the last four years. They are expected to number over 1.6 million by 2020, with a third of all children born that year the offspring of international unions.


I quoted that prediction in several of my posts, including one that appeared only three years ago. How correct was that prediction? And how correct was I in accepting it?


In 2020, 6% of Korea's live births had at least one immigrant parent. Of those births, 67% were to a Korean father and a non-Korean mother, 13.2% to the reverse, and 19.9% to naturalized residents (Statistics Korea 2021, p. 4).


There's a big difference between 6% and one third. Was that forecast unrealistic in 2011? Or did something happen afterwards to throw it off? I would say the latter. Specifically, it was thrown off by three factors:


·         The year 2011 saw the beginning of a crackdown on visa applications for mail-order wives. "International marriages" fell from a high of 35,100 in 2010 to a low of 21,700 in 2016 (Statistics Korea 2021, p. 1). The authorities seem to have initially enforced the existing visa requirements with more rigour. Then, in 2014, the government introduced several new rules: a Korean language requirement for the foreign spouse; income and housing requirements for the Korean sponsor; a 5-year ban on Koreans sponsoring a second foreign spouse (because of divorce); and a 3-year ban on naturalized immigrants sponsoring a foreign spouse (An 2019, pp. 102-103).


·         The fertility of native-born Koreans has declined, but so has the fertility of immigrant mothers. There has been a decrease in total live births to immigrants since 2012, despite an increase in the total immigrant population (Statistics Korea 2021, p. 4).


·         The COVID-19 pandemic has depressed both immigration and fertility.  Immigrant marriages fell from 24,700 in 2019 to 16,200 in 2020. Births to immigrants fell from 17,900 in 2019 to 16,400 in 2020.


The first factor is called the "observer effect." You cannot make an observation without affecting the thing you observe, perhaps to the point of invalidating your observation. When, in 2011, Faustino Lim predicted that a third of all births would be born to non-Korean mothers by 2020, the authorities responded by making immigration a lot harder for foreign women.


The other two factors have been noted elsewhere. In the United States, fertility has fallen among immigrant groups, particularly Hispanics. We are seeing, in fact, a dramatic drop in fertility throughout the world, the notable exceptions being much of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Muslim world. Finally, the pandemic has reduced both fertility and international migration. Things may return to normal once it ends. Or maybe not. The pandemic may be acting as an accelerant of existing social trends (Frost 2020).


Does this mean that South Korea has dodged the bullet of demographic replacement? It depends on what happens to fertility and immigration once the pandemic is over. In 2020, the country's fertility rate fell to 0.84 children per woman, the lowest in the world (Reuters 2021). At that level, it doesn't take much to cause rapid demographic change. Such change could happen especially fast if citizenship is given to the growing population of legal and illegal migrants:


The country currently allows migrants to fill labor shortages, but soon it may have to allow greater immigration to help augment its aging, shrinking population.


... Chung Ki-seon, a migration expert at Seoul National University, says that South Korea is taking in migrants because it needs to supplement its agriculture, fishing, construction and manufacturing workforce, and not to address a demographic imbalance.

She predicts that situation will change over the next decade, as the country reaches a turning point that will necessitate a policy shift.


"The approximate age of the [Korean] people working the fields right now is over 70," she says. "And once they reach 75 or older, it will be hard for them to remain in the workforce."


... The pandemic cut off the inflow of thousands of legally employed migrant workers from Southeast Asia and countries as far away as Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Chung says 5,000 new seasonal laborers were supposed to come into the country to work for 90 days or less last year. But none of them could enter.


As a result, Chung says, "the farms rely mostly on illegal immigrants, who fill 80% to 90% of that shortage." There are more than 392,000 undocumented workers in the country. (Kuhn 2021)




An, J. (2019). Marriage Migration and National Boundary-Making: A Comparative Study of Marriage Migration in South Korea and Canada. PhD dissertation, Department of Sociology, Carleton University, Ottawa


Frost, P. (2019). South Korea at the crossroads. Evo and Proud, August 20  


Frost, P. (2020). An Accelerant of Social Change? The Spanish Flu of 1918-19. International Political Anthropology Journal 13(2): 123-133.


Frost, P. (2021). Damunwha in South Korea: A case study of divergences in cognition and behavior. Advances in Anthropology 11(2): 153-162.  


Kuhn, A. (2021). As Workforce Ages, South Korea Increasingly Depends on Migrant Labor. NPR


Lim, T. (2011). Korea's multicultural future? The Diplomat, July 20   


Reuters (2021). South Korea's fertility rate falls to lowest in the world.


Statistics Korea. (2021). Vital Statistics of Immigrants in 2020.