This study identified gender differences in willingness for childbirth, fertility knowledge, and value of motherhood or fatherhood among college students, and both similarities and differences in factors influencing willingness for childbirth were found between men and women.
First, female students in this study showed lower willingness for future childbirth than male students; this finding is consistent with the recent national health and sociological studies on young adults reporting that women had more negative attitudes towards having children than men [20, 21]. A reason why women avoid childbirth may be that as the number of employed women increases, women have a greater burden due to childbirth and childrearing than men in the context of balancing work and childcare. Another explanatory factor may be the deeply rooted Confucian culture in Korea, which regards procreation as preserving and extending the lineage for men [7–22].
In addition, with regard to value of motherhood or fatherhood, women valued motherhood significantly less than men valued fatherhood. Similarly, another study conducted in Korea  found that women perceived parenthood as having a more negative impact on their careers and lives and placed a lower value on having children than men. In the traditional culture of Korea, following Confucian gender roles, women are considered the primary caregivers of their children . Furthermore, while women's social activities have increased, men's roles and duties in housekeeping have not substantially changed [20, 22]. Previous studies conducted among college students in Korea have also shown that, although the value of marriage has changed over time, the roles of women and men are still divided according to patriarchal values, and gender inequality still exists [7, 23]. This could possibly explain why women placed a lower value on motherhood. Therefore, this explanation suggests that it is necessary to develop policies or provide adequate resources for women so that parenthood does not interfere with women's careers. From a societal perspective, it is also necessary to change perceptions of the roles of motherhood and fatherhood in the family.
Women had a lower fertility knowledge score than men in this study, which is similar to the results of previous studies conducted among university students in Korea using the same fertility knowledge instrument, while another study conducted among individuals of childbearing age in 74 countries found that women had higher knowledge scores than men . Regardless of childbirth plans, a lack of fertility knowledge in young adults could lead to childlessness in the near future . Therefore, it is necessary to provide concrete education on fertility issues in schools and health clinics in the community to help young adults, especially women, in Korea make informed reproductive decisions.
In the present study, religiosity was found to show a significant association with future willingness for childbirth in both men and women. These findings are in line with the results of previous studies that have consistently shown religiosity to be an important predictor of fertility intentions and behaviors; specifically, religious people have been found to have both more intentions and more children than non-religious people in many countries [14, 24]. Mencarini, Vignoli, and Gottard  explained that religious people are more likely to express willingness for childbirth because their attitudes toward children are more positive. In addition, religious networks may supply social support and encouragement regarding religious values, and subjective social normative pressure for childbirth may be more relevant for religious individuals [26, 27]. These results suggest that religiosity still seems to have a positive effect on perceptions of parenthood even in the current modern era.
Furthermore, this study confirmed that the value of motherhood or fatherhood was an important factor influencing willingness for childbirth in the future in both men and women. Moreover, according to the National Health Study conducted in Korea, which tracked whether values toward parenthood influenced childbirth using cross-sectional data obtained at different times from married women, these values affect not only willingness for childbirth but also actual childbearing behavior . Therefore, social effort may be required to provide supportive resources so that being a parent can be as favorable of an experience as possible for parents to enjoy their lives. Currently, the Korean government has established policies to encourage childbirth, such as providing financial support for infertile couples to undergo artificial reproductive technology, antenatal care, and childcare . However, we need to bridge the gap between the current policy and practical needs by confirming the degree to which these policies are actually helpful to couples. The finding that the value of motherhood or fatherhood had a significant influence on both men and women on the willingness for future childbirth suggests useful evidence and directions for future preconception care and education for young adults in order to encourage them to plan future pregnancies in advance for healthy pregnancy and childbirth.
The present study found that the monthly allowance significantly influenced female students’ willingness for childbirth in the future, which is in line with previous study findings that socioeconomic status is positively associated with higher future childbearing intention for women in many developed countries [14, 29]. A potential explanation for this may be that in countries where women reach a higher economic status and have higher education, other social structural circumstances that can affect fertility help women combine work with having children . On the contrary, women in developing countries are likely to be more willing to give birth because their educational and economic levels are much lower, which might be explained by the expected benefits of children's work in agricultural-centered societies . In this study, female students’ allowances were not a direct indicator of economic status (such as income, education, or employment), but this variable can be interpreted as a reflection of the financial situation practically experienced by female students.
In this study, health behavior characteristics were not associated with willingness for future childbirth in both men and women. Few studies have evaluated the association between willingness for childbirth and health behavior in young adults; therefore, it is difficult to make a clear comparison. However, previous studies confirmed that fertility knowledge was related to lifestyle habits (e.g., smoking and alcohol consumption) and sexual behavior (e.g., sexual trasexually transmitted infections [31, 32]. In addition, women who currently smoked and used alcohol had a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy . Further research is necessary to explore the association between fertility intention and health behavior in young adults.
Our study has several limitations. First of all, since this study was conducted through an online survey for the convenience of recruitment, caution is needed in the interpretation of the findings due to the possibility that the reliability and validity of the research data may be diminished by careless and random responses on an online survey. In addition, since this study asked about participants’ thoughts about childbirth in the future, not the same period when the study was conducted, participants’ responses may not necessarily be consistent with their real thoughts about childbirth in the future.
Despite the limitations of the study, it makes a significant contribution by focusing on gender differences in the future childbirth willingness of college students, as well as by identifying novel associations with knowledge about fertility issues and the value of parenthood. In addition, the findings of this study provide insight into factors influencing future childbirth willingness in men and women. From the perspective of RLP, this study is meaningful since investigating willingness and thoughts about future childbirth among college students provides an opportunity to consider planning for childbearing in advance, which will promote healthy pregnancy and childbirth in the future.
The findings of this study indicate that there were differences in willingness for childbirth, fertility knowledge, and value of motherhood or fatherhood according to gender in college students. The value of motherhood or fatherhood was an important influencing factor in both male and female college students, whereas the monthly allowance was also an important influencing factor in female college students. Based on these findings, we suggest the following for future research and practice. First of all, future research could explore the association between willingness for childbirth and health behavior in larger study groups of young adults, and potential connections with perceptions of gender roles within the household might be further addressed. Another direction for future research could be to explore the intention-behavior connection by applying the framework of the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to the study. Furthermore, the results of this study indicate that future research should develop effective interventions for informed reproductive decision-making for college students considering gender differences.