May 24, 2018 13:15
Fewer than 90,000 children were born in Korea in the first three months of this year, a fresh record low, but deaths exceeded the 80,000 mark for the first time.
The birthrate has been dwindling despite government spending worth more than W200 trillion to tackle the issue over the past decade (US$1=W1,083).
According to Statistics Korea on Wednesday, 89,600 babies were born in the first quarter, down 9,100 on-year. The biggest on-year decline was in March, when 30,000 babies were born, 3,200 fewer than the same month last year.
January and March are normally the two months with the highest numbers of births. "This is not a good sign," a Statistics Korea spokesman said.
A major reason is the dwindling number of women of peak childbearing age between 30 and 34, coupled with declining marriages. The number of women aged 30-34 dwindled 5.6 percent in March and a whopping 11.6 percent for 33-year-old women.
Only 66,200 couples got married in the first quarter, down 2,400 from a year earlier. The total fertility rate -- the average number of children born to a woman aged between 15 and 49 over her lifetime -- fell to 1.07.
But 81,800 people died in the first quarter, up 8,800 on-year and an all-time high. The sharp rise was due to many elderly people succumbing to the biting cold in January and February. The country's population increased by a mere 7,800 in the quarter, only one-third of the 25,600 in the same period last year.
Lee Ji-yeon of Statistics Korea said, "If the birthrate remains this low, the moment when the population actually starts declining will come eight years earlier than expected in 2023."
Since the mid-2000s, the government has spent astronomical sums trying to solve the problems of the low birthrate and ageing population. This year, it is spending a combined W30 trillion trying to boost the birthrate, which breaks down to nearly W100 million per newborn.
Experts warn that the government is on the wrong track. "Marriage is prerequisite to childbirth, but the government has so far spent more than 80 percent of the relevant budget on child-rearing," said Lee Sam-sik at Hanyang University. "We need high-powered short-term incentives, including subsidies for childbirth."
The working-age population has already been decreasing since 2016, and the economic impact has started to show up in some indices.
The slowdown in job growth, which has dropped below 200,000, is attributed partly to a recent decline of some 65,000 in the working-age population, said Ban Jang-sik, the senior presidential secretary for job affairs.
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