South Korea has broken its own record for the world’s lowest fertility rate yet again, as it faces the prospect of its 51 million-person population more than halving by the end of the century. According to Bloomberg, based on 2021 data, Korean women are expected to have an average of 0.81 children over their lifetimes, down from 0.84 a year earlier, the statistics office said on Wednesday. The number of newborns fell to 260,600 last year, accounting for about 0.5% of the population.
In 2018, the nation’s rate fell below one child per woman for the first time. However, data released by the government on Wednesday revealed that the figure had fallen to 0.81, a three-point decline from the prior year and a sixth straight decline. In contrast, the average number of children per woman in the most developed nations is 1.6.
Countries require a 2.1 rate of births per couple in order to maintain a constant population size in the absence of immigration. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), fertility rates have “markedly declined” over the past 60 years.
But in South Korea, where family sizes have shrunk over a few generations, the trend has been especially pronounced. Beginning in the 1970s, women typically had four children. A country can be put under tremendous strain by a declining population. A declining youth population also causes labour shortages that have an effect on the economy, in addition to increased pressure on public spending as demand for healthcare and pensions rises.
South Korea experienced its first instance of more deaths than births in 2020, which caused widespread concern. According to experts, people have recently prioritised financial constraints and professional considerations when deciding whether to have children.
A 2% decrease in the number of women of childbearing age to 11,620,000 last year indicates that the fertility rate will likely continue to decline. According to the statistics office, a typical Korean woman gave birth to her first child at age 32.6, up from 30.2 a decade earlier. In comparison to 33 a decade ago, her partner would now be 35.1 on average. According to the statistics office, the capital Seoul had the lowest fertility rate by region (0.63), while Sejong, the location of the government, had the highest (1.28). According to Bloomberg, the most populous province, Gyeonggi, recorded 0.85, which was closer to the average.
The population more than doubled in the decades following the 1950–1953 Korean War, and the government encouraged couples to have just one child in an effort to slow the baby boom during the early years of economic development. Around the turn of the century, that policy was abandoned as birth rates began to plummet sharply. As a result, the government began spending tens of billions of dollars annually to encourage more children, but so far, with little success.