(Bloomberg) -- South Korea’s private schooling costs rose to a new record and the number of students using them shattered the previous all-time high, highlighting the financial pressure and intense demand for education that’s helped drive the world’s lowest fertility rate.

Monthly spending on additional private schooling, or “hagwons,” climbed to 410,000 won ($315) on average for each student last year, up 11.8% from 2021, the statistics office said Thursday. The highest-earning households spent 648,000 won on them, about five times more than the lowest-earning ones.

Hagwons are a 23.4 trillion won industry in Korea where competition for better exam scores remains fierce. Koreans’ obsession with education and its rising cost are among factors behind a growing reluctance among women to give birth as they face numerous challenges to maintain a career while raising a child.

Last year, 78.3% of children attended private education in addition to their mandatory schooling, up from 75.5% in 2021, according to Statistics Korea. That exceeded the previous record of 77% in 2007.

The reliance on hagwons indicates that Koreans’ focus in education remains on securing college admission rather than obtaining real-world skills needed to modernize the country’s labor market and better compete internationally.

Stress from exams is a leading cause of teenage suicide in Korea, with its incidence in the teen cohort rising the most among all age groups in 2021.

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