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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

South Korea’s 2023 fertility rate, already the world’s lowest, drops further

In 2023, South Korea experienced a further decline in its already record-low fertility rate, driven by women prioritizing career advancement and concerns about the financial burden of raising children. Data from Statistics Korea revealed that the average number of expected babies for a South Korean woman during her reproductive years dropped to an unprecedented 0.72, down from 0.78 in 2022.

This figure is significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1 per woman required for a stable population, and notably lower than the 2015 rate of 1.24 when issues like housing and education costs were less pressing. Since 2018, South Korea has been the sole member of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) with a fertility rate below 1, persisting despite substantial financial efforts to reverse the trend.

Gwak Tae-hee, a 34-year-old junior manager at a Korean dairy product company, exemplifies the trend, expressing concerns about being passed over for promotions if she prioritizes starting a family. She had considered in vitro fertilization (IVF) but chose to focus on work projects to enhance her career prospects instead.

South Korea’s demographic crisis poses a significant risk to economic growth and the social welfare system, with the nation’s population of 51 million projected to halve by the end of the century. Projections indicate a further decline in the fertility rate to 0.68 in 2024, with the capital city Seoul experiencing the lowest rate at 0.55 in the previous year.

Also Read: South Korea-US Annual Drills Addressing Nuclear Threats from North Korea

As elections approach, major political parties in South Korea are pledging initiatives such as increased public housing and easier loans to address the declining fertility rates and alleviate fears of “national extinction.” The link between marriage and childbearing remains strong in South Korea, but marriages are also decreasing.

In response to the crisis, the government is contemplating policies focused on understanding why married couples choose not to have children. Despite substantial investments exceeding 360 trillion won ($270 billion) in areas like childcare subsidies since 2006, efforts to reverse the record-low fertility rates have not yielded the desired results.

South Korea’s struggle with a rapidly aging population is not unique, as neighboring Japan also reported a continuous decline in the number of births in 2023, marking the eighth consecutive year of decrease. Japan’s fertility rate hit a record low of 1.26 in 2022, while China recorded 1.09, also reaching a record low. The severity of the situation is reflected in the growing concern and attention given to population-related issues by political parties in both countries.

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