June 26, 2012 12:52
Children born in year 2005, when the number of newborns was at the all-time low of 435,031, started elementary school this year. The number is a mere 42.5 percent of the 1.02 million babies born in the record year 1971.
The total fertility rate in 2005 was a mere 1.08, also a record low, as many struggled to find jobs and avoided marriages due to the dire job market after the Asian financial crisis. Between 2005 and 2009, the number of newborns ranged between 430,000 and 490,000.
Only 444,849 babies were born in 2009, 448,153 in 2006, and 465,892 in 2008. A slight surge occurred in 2007, the Year of the Golden Pig thought to augur wealth. This resulted in about 45,000 more babies.
Children born in these meager years are likely to change the landscape of Korean society. The number of children per classroom in elementary schools is expected to drop from 25.5 in 2011 to around 20, just one-third of the 71.8 who jostled for space in 1978.
By the time they go to university, competition for places will ease dramatically, as will competition in the job market. The population of people aged between 18 and 21, currently at 2.7 million, will decrease to 1.8 million.
Prof. Cho Young-tae of Seoul National University said, "The reason that private afterschool education flourishes is because people want their kids to go to a good university and get a good job, so if that gets easier, the burden of private tuition will be significantly reduced."
Elsewhere there could be severe staff shortages. The Army will see the pool of young recruits drop from 350,000 now to about 200,000. The Defense Ministry aims to maintain the standing army at around 500,000, but that looks unlikely, so it will have to pay more to attract soldiers so that it can maintain troop levels.
Women on the other hand will have their pick of eligible bachelors since they are outnumbered by men when they reach marriageable age.
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