South Korea Study Indicates That Having Kids may be a Bigger Gamble Than Previously Thought


Beautiful downtown Ilsan
Ilsan, Korea. Photo courtesy

A recent study in South Korea by researchers from the Yale Child Study center, George Washington University, and several other institutions sought to screen every child aged seven to 12 for autism. They conducted the survey in Ilsan, a suburb of Seoul, South Korea that has a population of about 450,000.

A few years ago, experts widely believed that approximately one in 150 Americans was born with some form of autism. Recent research has shown the number was closer to one in 100. Now, results from the South Korean study indicate that as many as one in 38 children is born with autism in South Korea. That’s more than 2.5 percent of all babies. And the results are likely to apply to other regions of the world as well, including the United States. With a more comprehensive approach than used in previous studies, the researchers were surprised by how high the rate was.

Creating children is a gamble – a high-stakes gamble. But the roll of the dice can have life-altering consequences. In our soon-to-be-released book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we discuss at length the gambles involved in procreating. Among the many perils facing parents are physical and mental disabilities wreaked upon their progeny by the haphazardness of existence.

            In particular, the autism hazard is either growing or has been more widespread than detected until recently. Briefly, autism is a mental disorder that involves three areas of core symptoms. They are:

¨       Difficulty with social interaction and relationships

¨       Difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication

¨       Limited interests in activities or play

The severity of these symptoms may vary from mild to severe, including an inability to speak. At the higher-function end of the autism spectrum is Asperger’s syndrome, from which Cheryl’s brother suffer. To learn more abut the autism spectrum, we suggest logging into We also recommend the documentary film, Autism, the Musical.

            The researchers believe that autism frequently goes undetected in many countries. Estimates from the United States were based upon educational and medical records, not the more labor intensive methodology used in South Korea. The study analyzed surveys responses for more than 23,000 children between the ages of seven and 12.

            Chapter 1 of our book makes the case that having kids engenders taking the substantial risk that children will be born with, or develop later in life, significant difficulties – whether physical, emotional or social – with which both the kids and their parents will have to grapple. Like Victor Frankenstein, most would-be parents envision bringing forth a generation of ideal offspring. What frequently occurs is the offspring are less than perfect, flawed, gross disappointments, or burdens on society. They may acquire untimely severe or terminal illnesses, have significant mental defects, or develop antisocial traits.

            But the findings in South Korea determine that this one narrowly-defined “defect,” autism, is more than just a rare occurrence. And while not all instances of autism are equal in severity, its potential occurrence is certainly worth considering by intended parents. Add it to all the other dangers lurking in life and it should, at least, give would-be parents food for thought.

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