World’s lowest fertility rate recorded in South Korea again after 2018

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South Korea has shattered its own record for the world’s lowest fertility rate in the face of a rapidly dwindling population, according to official figures.

The report released by the country’s statistics office on Wednesday showed its fertility rate, or the number of expected babies per South Korean woman, dropped to 0.81 in 2021 – down from 0.84 recorded the previous year.

National capital Seoul recorded the lowest fertility rate at 0.63, while the most populous province, Gyeonggi, had just a 0.85 rate.

The South’s fertility rate has dropped below 1.0 for the first time since 2018 as the country suffers an economic decline, rising child care and education costs and expanding debt.

Only 260,600 childbirths were recorded last year, which equates to about 0.5 per cent of the population.

In 2020, amid the Covid pandemic, South Korea witnessed more deaths than births for the first time.

South Korea has the lowest fertility rate among the over 180 member countries of the World Bank, and far below 1.66 in the US and 1.37 in Japan.

A fertility rate of 2.1 is required for a population to remain stable without migration.

The crude birth rate, which indicates the number of births per 1,000 people, also dropped to a record low of 5.1.

South Korea is the world’s fastest-ageing nation among economies with a per capita gross domestic product of at least $30,000.

By 2100, its population is expected to fall by 53 per cent to 24 million, Bloomberg reported.

According to government data, as of November 2021, 16.8 per cent of South Korea’s 51.74 million population was over 65 years old, while just 11.8 per cent were age 14 or under.

Along with the low fertility rate, women in South Korea are also opting to have children later in life. Official data shows the average age of women who gave birth in 2021 was 33.4, which is 0.2 years older than the previous year.

The population forecast and the rising number of elderly people pose a threat to the country’s economy, which relies on the younger workforce.

Rhee Chang-yong, the governor of the Bank of Korea, warned in April that the country’s economy faces the risk of secular stagnation as the population ages and productivity slows.

He added that “rising welfare spending” would take away from the finance needed to boost economic growth.