South Korea's fertility rate set to hit record low of 0.96
South Korea South Korea's fertility rate set to hit record low of 0.96
Rate falling below 1 for first time will lead to pensions shortfalls and economic decline, study warns
South Koreaâs fertility rate is set to hit an all-time low this year, setting the country up for a host of problems including underfunded pensions, expanding debt and economic decline.
The countryâs fertility rate â" the average number of babies born per woman of reproductive age â" is set to drop to as low as 0.96 this year, falling below one for the first time in history, according to a study commissioned by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. Such a low fertility rate is normally only seen during wartime, said Lee Chul-hee, an economics professor at Seoul National University and one of the authors of the study.
âThereâs definitely going to be a psychological shock among the Korean people,â he said. âIt will likely influence what is considered to be an ideal number of children, and could lead to the rate dropping even further.â
Lee warned that social welfare schemes, such as healthcare and pensions, will face shortfalls as society ages and there are fewer people to pay to support them. Classrooms could also empty out as fewer children attend schools , and the South Korean military, where all men are conscripted to face the threat of North Korea, could lack adequate troop numbers.
It is a trend facing wealthy nations around the world, but one that has manifested particularly quickly in South Korea. The global fertility rate is expected to be two births per woman by 2100, just below replacement levels, according to UN projections.
South Koreaâs birth rate has been falling since the 1960s. Following a baby boom in the wake of the 1950-53 Korean war, the government launched a campaign encouraging women to have no more than two children.Photojournalist Kim Hong-Ji explores South Korea's 'baby boxes' Read more
The status of women in South Korea, a deeply patriarchal society, is a major driver of the trend, along with worsening job prospects for young people and rising property prices. Women are getting married and having children later in life, if at all, for fear of being denied promotions and facing discrimination at work.
The average age for South Korean women getting married for the first time is 30.2, according to figures from the ministry of gender equality and family, up from 24.8 in 1990. Women tend to have their first child at 31.6, on average.
âIf a woman has her first child when she is 32, it becomes difficult to have more than two children,â a researcher at Statistics Korea said when the figure was released in March.
The government has tried to reverse the trend but has made little progress. Authorities spent 153tn won (Â£106bn) between 2006 and 2018, according to figures from the national assembly, on measures designed to encourage more births. Those efforts include free childcare until the age of five, cash payouts to pregnant women and supporting youth clubs.
âThis is approaching disaster levels,â said Lee Bong-joo, dean of the college of social sciences at Seoul National University. âFocusing only on chil dcare wonât be effective in the future, increasing gender equality in the home and the workplace is the best solution, but that will take time.â
He suggested government housing subsidies for young couples, aggressively tackling the sex discrimination faced by new mothers and removing the stigma associated with single parent households.
But even those measures may be too late. The total number of babies born last year was 357,000, down from 493,000 a decade ago, and even if fertility rates begin to rise, it will be among a shrinking pool of women.
âThe speed in the decline of children born each year is more important than the fertility rate â" that will produce real problems in economy and society,â Lee Chul-hee said.Topics
- South Korea
- Fertility problems
- Asia Pacific
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