February 28, 2019 13:24
Korea's total fertility rate dropped to 0.98 last year, or less than one child likely to be born to Korean women over their lifetime.
Korea is the only country in the OECD whose fertility rate has dipped below 1. The rate dwindled even though the government spent more than W58 trillion to encourage childbirth over the past two years (US$1=W1,119).
Statistics Korea released the data on Wednesday, saying the country's total fertility rate in 2018 plunged from 1.05 in 2017, which was already a record low. Only 326,900 babies were born last year, 30,000 fewer than the previous year.
Signs for the future are not encouraging. Last year, the birthrate fell among those in their 20s and 30s, the peak fertility age, to 24.4 and 66.1 babies per 1,000 women, down 13 percent and six percent.
Women in their late 30s had more children than those in their late 20s, the first full reversal of the traditional pattern. Only 10 years ago, the birthrate among those in their late 20s was nearly four times as high as among those in their late 30s.
The average age for childbirth therefore rose to 32.8 years, up 0.2 on-year. Those aged 35 or older accounted for 31.8 percent of all new mothers, up 2.4 percentage points over the same period.
There are complex reasons for the dismal rate. First of all, the fertile female population has been declining. The number of the most reproductive women aged 30-34 decreased from 1.65 million in 2017 to 1.57 million in 2018.
The number of marriages has also been falling for seven straight years. Only 257,700 couples tied the knot last year, an all-time low. More people also choose to get married later in life, so there remain fewer years when they are likely to have kids. The marriage rate per 1,000 people in their late 20s was 31.5 for men and 57.1 for women last year, down two and 3.5 on-year.
"The low total fertility rate below 1 suggests that childbirth and marriage are losing their value," said Prof. Lee Sam-sik of Hanyang University. "Many young people seem to think that they're just a pain."
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