What is causing the population reduction in South Korea?
For decades, South Korea has been fighting an unseen battle for its survival: a shrinking population. Early December government numbers appear to imply that Asia’s fourth-largest economy is losing the battle.
According to statistics issued by Statistics Korea, the country’s overall population of roughly 52 million is expected to fall 0.18 percent by the end of 2021, the first time since the country began collecting census data.
In addition, the government agency in charge of statistics and census data drew out a worst-case scenario, according to which the current population will decline to around 12 million by 2120, or roughly 23% of the current population. Furthermore, Statistics Korea estimated that the population’s average age would climb from 43 in 2021 to 62 in 2070.
The statistics are unsurprising in a country that has long been cognizant of the problems associated with population decrease. The combination of an aging population and falling birth rates makes it difficult to refresh the workforce, while the country faces increased tax revenue and health-care spending.
Attempts have been made by successive governments to combat the decline, with a total budget of 225 trillion won ($188 billion, €167 billion) set aside for the decade leading up to 2020. This money was mostly used to provide financial incentives to couples who wanted to start a family. However, the extra spending has had little impact on increasing birth rates so far.
“It’s been a problem for a long time, and I’m afraid things have gotten worse in recent years, partly because of the pandemic,” said Ohe Hye-gyeong, a professor at Tokyo’s International Christian University. “However, this is a structural issue that has been affecting Korean society for many years, and while there are several factors, I believe the biggest reason is what has been described as ‘education passion’ in parents desperate for their children to succeed,” she told DW.
As the nation rebuilt in the aftermath of the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea’s rapid economic expansion and prosperity has created chances that were largely unimaginable to the grandparents of today’s pupils, she added. As a result, many people believe that education is crucial to a child’s future career prospects and happiness.
“All parents want to provide their children with a ‘elite education,’ even if it means spending half of their income on education every year,” Ohe added. “This is a huge financial burden for families, and most couples can only afford one child. “According to Park Saying-in, an economist at Seoul National University, the pressure is equally as great when a young person quits school or university. “In Korea’s corporate world and society in general, this is a structural issue,” he stated.
“Finding a steady, well-paying work is extremely tough for today’s younger generations. Even those who do land jobs at the top corporations typically stay until they are in their mid-50s, when they are expected to leave and enter the self-employed market.”
Young males in their 20s and 30s who are unable to secure a secure and well-paying employment are also obliged to work part-time jobs with limited security. He claims that this creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that is unsuitable for long-term planning, such as starting a family.
Another factor could be that women are delaying having children for extended periods of time. Some women prefer to focus on their professions and education rather than having children.
According to statistics issued by the Seoul Metropolitan Government on December 16, the number of marriages in the city has decreased by 43% over the last 20 years, from 78,745 in 2000 to 44,746 last year. In 2020, the average age of first marriages was 33, up from 29 in 1990.