According to CHA Medical Group, a health care firm which owns a number of major medical facilities nationwide, 288 women froze their eggs at three of their hospitals -- CHA Gangnam Medical Center, CHA Bundang Medical Center and CHA Fertility Center Seoul Station -- a steep rise from the 23 in 2013.
The three hospitals currently store the largest number of frozen eggs in the country, according to the Health Ministry. From 2013 to 2017, a total of 648 Korean women underwent the procedure -- which involves the hormone-injection process as well as the egg retrieval -- at the CHA hospitals.
Almost 50 percent of the women were in their 30s while women in their 40s made up 37.5 percent. Notably, those in their 20s also accounted for 13.8 percent of all women who opted to freeze their eggs at the three medical institutions.
The egg bank at the Cha hospitals said it can store an egg for up to 10 years. The procedure, which costs approximately 1.5 million to 2.5 million won ($1,320-$2,200) for those without pre-existing health conditions -- is not covered by the National Insurance Service. An annual payment of 300,000 won is charged for the storage of the frozen eggs.
As more women in Korea are postponing having a family as they focus on their careers, the number of pregnancies after the age of 35 has been on the rise. Late pregnancies are considered one of the biggest contributing factors to the rise of preterm births as well as infertility in Korea.
Last year, women aged 35 and older accounted for 29 percent of all women who gave birth. The number of premature births in Korea, on the other hand, increased significantly from 1996-2016, from 1,205 to 2,783. Meanwhile, 208,703 Koreans visited fertility clinics for infertility evaluation and treatment last year, up from 178,000 in 2007.
According to CHA Medical Group, when the egg freezing procedure was introduced some five years ago, most women who visited the institution were cancer patients who were about to undergo chemotherapy.
As chemo drugs can damage a woman’s eggs and thereby affect her fertility, many patients wanted to freeze their eggs before being treated for cancer. Today, however, many single women in their 20s and 30s choose to undergo the procedure, as a form of “insurance”-- in case they want to have children later.
“There are also married women in their 30s who don’t want to be parents just yet, but want to have the option available later in life,” said Dr. Hur Yun-jung of CHA Fertility Center Seoul Station.
Kim Seon-ha, a 30-year-old single woman in Seoul, said she is interested in the egg-freezing procedure.
“I’m pretty happy being single right now and not really thinking about getting married anytime soon,” she told The Korea Herald. “But it would definitely be nice to have an option if I turn 45 and suddenly want to start a family.”
Korea’s fertility rate hit a record low of 1.05 last year, partially due to delayed marriages and childbearing among women. As of 2016, some 4,586 frozen eggs are were being stored at 26 medical institutions nationwide, according to the Health Ministry.