Korea's death rate reached a record high last year as fewer and fewer people had children and the country became an ultra-aged society.According to Statistics Korea, the country's death rate last year stood at 727 per 100,000 people, compared to 619 a year ago and surpassing 700 for the first time.The coronavirus pandemic contributed to fatalities among the elderly. The total number of deaths per year hovered below 300,000 from the 1980s right until 2019 but broke the mark in 2020 with 304,948, the first year of the pandemic, and reached 372,800 last year.Korea's population already started declining naturally in 2020, when deaths (304,948) outnumbered births (272,337) for the first time.The country is beginning to suffer an acute shortage in care homes for the elderly and even funeral parlors.Last year, 77,690 more people died than in 2019, but according to the Korea Funeral Culture and Policy Institute, there were 1,116 funeral parlors and 5,074 mortuaries in the country as of last year. The numbers edged up by only two and 73 over the period.
Choi Min-ho of the Korea Funeral Association said, "Some funeral homes with inconvenient access have closed down, and it's difficult to build new ones in Seoul, where demand is high, because neighbors file complaints." A shortage of care workers is part of the problem. Cho Young-tae at Seoul National University said, "Korea is aging without having been able to secure enough care workers, and the inheritance laws have not been upgraded. We need to make sure this is all ready before 2040, when the baby boomers enter their 80s." Under the current laws, the ratio of inheritance for a spouse and children is 1.5 to 1 when the other spouse dies, and there have been calls for revision so that a spouse can receive half of the couple's assets to ensure they can support themselves.If COVID does not flare up again, there could be fewer deaths this year and next, but over the long-term deaths will continue to outnumber births.The birthrate keeps dwindling. In January, births declined six percent on-year to 23,179, the fewest on record, while deaths increased 9.6 percent to 2,856. That resulted in another natural population decline of 9,524, the 39th month in a row.