August 02, 2016 12:11
The biggest reason behind the declining birthrate in Korea is a drop in the number of women of childbearing age to the tune of 94,000 a year over the past decade.
The decline gets worse the younger the women are as the declining birthrate bites in the age group between 25 and 34, the prime childbearing years.
That population shrank by 100,000 in 2015 and this year, because the birthrate started dropping fast in the late 1980s when the number of babies born annually dropped from around 800,000 to 600,000.
Women are also marrying later in their lives these days, which means the average age when women have their first child is now 31, the highest in the world.
Men too are postponing marriage as jobs have become scarce, while soaring home prices have made it extremely difficult for couples to set up a home.
Only 119,700 couples got married in the first five months of this year, the fewest since 1990. Demographers project that the number of childbirths could hover at around 400,000 annually over the next 10 years.
Changing attitudes and perceptions of marriage and childbirth are also reducing the birthrate.
Lee Sang-rim at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs said, "Koreans who have now grown into the prime marrying age are those who witnessed their parents' divorce or suffer other marital problems in the 1997 Asian financial crisis. It will be difficult to turn the tide unless there is a major shift in attitudes."
Last year 60.4 percent of single women between the ages of 30 to 34 said it is OK not to marry. The proportion of single women who said it is fine not to have children stood at 30.8 percent.
The government has vowed to boost the birthrate to 1.5 by 2020, which would delay the population decline by four years from 2031 to 2035. But if the number of childbirths falls to 400,000 a year, the population could shrink much faster than projected.
Already, a shortage of new students has forced many kindergartens to close down, and now the effect is spreading to schools. Statistics Korea had forecast that childbirths would dwindle to around 430,000 a year in 2026, but this already started happening in 2013.
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