More babies were born in Korea for the second year running and divorce hit a 14-year low, raising hopes that the country may be able to reverse the dwindling birthrate and halt family disintegration.
Statistics Korea on Monday said 471,400 babies were born last year, up 0.3 percent from a year earlier and an average of 1,292 a day. This was the most since 2007, the Year of the Golden Pig thought to augur wealth, when 493,200 babies were born, and the second increase in as many years.
"Births increased significantly in 2010, the Year of the White Tiger, and the momentum continued until 2011," a Statistics Korea official said. "We expect more children to be born this year, the Year of the Black Dragon." These years are considered auspicious because they only come every 60 years.
Astrology apart, the outlook was backed up by marriage statistics. There were 329,000 marriages last year, the most since 2007.
The total fertility rate, the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime, stood at 1.24 last year. It was 1.15 in 2009 and 1.23 in 2010.
The increase is attributed to more people having more than three children. A total of 51,600 babies were their parents' third or higher last year, accounting for 11.0 percent of the total new-born babies and up 0.3 percentage point from a year earlier.
The traditional preference for boys is weakening. The ratio at birth was 105.7 boys per 100 girls, the lowest since statistics were first compiled in 1983.
There were 114,300 divorces last year, down 2.2 percent on-year and the lowest since 1997. The figure peaked at 166,600 in 2003 and thereafter hovered around 120,000. But the drop last year was partly due to the relatively small number of marriages in 2008 and 2009, although new rules giving couples a period of deliberation prior to divorce proceedings and a brief improvement in the economy until the middle of last year also played a part.
Kim Jae-won of the Samsung Economic Research Institute, said, "Since the country went through financial crises since the late 1990s, family breakup has emerged as a serious social problem, but that's showing signs of improvement now."