South Korea dangers a significant inhabitants crash because the nation marks its second consecutive yr with the world’s lowest fertility charge


South Koreans are having so few youngsters that their nation had the world’s lowest fertility charge in 2021, even decrease than the previous yr during which the nation additionally got here in useless final.  

Over the identical interval, the variety of newborns within the nation plunged to a brand new, all-time low of 260,000, down 4.3% from the yr prior, in response to South Korea census bureau information launched this week. It’s the second consecutive yr that the nation’s childbirths dipped under 300,000.

South Korean is amongst many developed nations which might be experiencing a decline in childbirths and fertility charges. For instance, Hong Kong had a fertility charge of 0.9 in 2020 whereas Singapore’s was at 1.1.

Within the U.S., the variety of newborns truly rose 1% in 2021 to three.6 million.  


Final yr, South Korean Netflix series Squid Game took the world by storm. Within the present, 456 indebted contestants compete in lethal video games for an opportunity to win $40 million and erase their money owed. 

Its themes resonated worldwide, however significantly for younger South Koreans, whose possibilities at shifting up the nation’s socioeconomic ladder have plummeted in recent times. Job competition has intensified, home prices have skyrocketed, and younger individuals have turned to ‘get rich quick’ schemes like bingeing on debt to spend money on cryptocurrencies and shares, together with on-line playing. 

Younger Korean professionals additionally face important societal pressures to adapt, and work pressures like long hours and heavy consuming classes with bosses and coworkers. These skilled pressures are exacerbated for working ladies—over half of South Korea’s feminine inhabitants are within the workforce—who’re anticipated to do the entire above, but additionally adhere to inflexible magnificence requirements and maintain the house and household. 

These components have translated into a scarcity of want to grow to be mother and father amongst younger individuals. Over half of younger Koreans say having children is unnecessary after marriage. It has additionally exacerbated the nation’s psychological well being disaster; over 95% of the inhabitants say they’re stressed and the nation has the highest suicide rate amongst all OECD nations. 

Throughout the Nineteen Seventies, South Korea’s annual variety of childbirths hovered at round 1 million. Since then, it has constantly declined. In 2017, that determine fell under 400,000 for the primary time. 

Final yr, the nation’s variety of births per 1,000 individuals, additionally plunged to a brand new, all-time low of 5.1, in comparison with 5.3 in 2020. The common age of a lady giving beginning has additionally elevated to 33.4 in 2021, in comparison with 33.1 in a yr earlier. 

“How troublesome should individuals discover it to get married, give beginning, and lift youngsters for this quantity to be so low? If we take this as a compressed measure of primary life, it’s a difficult determine,” Lee Samsik, a professor of coverage at Seoul’s Hanyang College, told the New York Times. 

Highway forward 

In 2020, South Korea skilled its first pure inhabitants decline as its variety of deaths surpassed the variety of newborns. By the tip of this century, South Korea’s inhabitants of 51 million might halve, in response to United Nations estimates. 

In the previous couple of years, the nation has scrambled to seek out options to take care of its shrinking inhabitants and labor power. The federal government has advocated for bringing extra ladies—and robots—into its workforce. It has additionally launched subsidies to encourage households to have extra youngsters, together with a money bonus of $1,185 for each youngster born, and a month-to-month grant of $224 for the primary yr of a kid’s life (it will improve to $373 by 2025). New mother and father who’ve been of their job for six months are entitled to at least one yr of paid parental depart. However in practice, staff taking paternity depart continues to be uncommon attributable to skilled stigma whereas moms taking maternity depart are sometimes penalized by their employers for doing so. 

South Korea’s low fertility charge and feminine labor participation charges finally “replicate entrenched social norms that will probably be troublesome to show round. A pointy decline within the workforce over the subsequent couple of many years is inevitable,” Gareth Leather-based, senior Asia economist at analysis agency Capital Economics, wrote in a be aware final August. 

The subsidies “might assist on the margin, however we doubt it might make an enormous distinction. Monetary assist for fogeys tends to have a restricted impression on fertility,” Leather-based mentioned.

South Korea has implemented reforms to open its doorways to migrant laborers. But solely 3% of its inhabitants is foreign-born, given the challenges of turning into a South Korean citizen. Public standard opinion can be stacked towards mass immigration into the nation.

Within the absence of a significant authorities intervention, the nation will probably expertise a crippling labor scarcity by the center of the subsequent decade; and inside three to 4 generations, the nationwide inhabitants might drop dramatically, Lee Sang-lim, a demographer with the Korea Institute for Well being and Social Affairs, told the New York Times.  

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