South Korea’s fertility rate, the world’s lowest for years, has fallen again, aggravating the challenges of aging demographics for the economy.
The number of babies expected per woman fell to 0.78 last year, according to data released yesterday by Statistics Korea.
At 0.81 in 2021, it was already the lowest among more than 260 nations tracked by the World Bank.
The lack of babies carries long-term risks for the economy by reducing the size of the workforce that underpins its growth and vitality.
Welfare spending for an aging population also drains national coffers that could otherwise be utilized to promote businesses, research and other enterprises that are key to prosperity.
A shrinking workforce is a major cause of South Korea’s declining potential growth rate.
The working-age population peaked at 37.3 million in 2020 and is set to fall by almost half by 2070, the data showed.
The number of newborns last year declined to 249,000 from 260,600 a year earlier, the office said.
That is less than 5 percent of the population. In contrast, about 373,000 people died last year, extending what one policymaker called a “death cross.”
South Korea has the world’s fastest-shrinking population among economies with per capita GDP of at least US$30,000, according to UN projections and World Bank data.
By 2100, the number of people is projected to fall by 53 percent to 24 million. That is a further deterioration from a 43 percent decline forecast in 2019.
South Korea’s leaders have increased spending to encourage people to have more babies, including South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s policy of tripling payments for mothers of newborns.
The government has also adopted a policy of living with an aging population, after seeing its efforts bear little fruit. That includes enhancing living conditions for retirees, accelerating robot adoption and inviting more foreigners into the workforce.
Economists say that South Korea needs to do more to improve gender equality so that women feel less worried about losing their jobs by having children.
High education and housing costs are among other factors putting pressure on fertility, data showed.
The average age at which a woman has her first child rose to 33 last year, while the number of second children fell by 16.8 percent.
By region, the capital, Seoul, had the lowest fertility rate at 0.59, while Sejong, home to government headquarters, had the highest at 1.12, Statistics Korea said.
The figures are preliminary and might be revised later this year.
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