Population Starts Dwindling a Decade Earlier Than Expected

  • By Choi Kyu-min

    March 29, 2019 12:32

    Korea's natural population will start to shrink this year, a decade earlier than originally expected, as deaths outnumber births, Statistics Korea said Thursday.

    Statistics Korea usually announces population estimates every five years and was set to make the next announcement in 2021 but brought the announcement forward due to the ultra-low birthrate, causing a drastic change in natural population analysis.

    Even three years ago, Statistics Korea still estimated Korea's total fertility rate -- the total number of children born to a woman over her lifetime -- at 1.2 in 2017 and 1.22 in 2018. But the actual numbers were 1.05 and 0.98.

    According to the new estimates, 309,000 births are expected this year while 314,000 people will die. Deaths already outnumbered births in the fourth quarter of last year by 1,500. The population decline is now expected to speed up, resulting in 52,000 more deaths than births by 2029 and 530,000 more in 2067. 

    Korea's actual population including immigrants is expected peak at 51.94 million in 2028 and start to decline in 2029, three years earlier than forecast in 2016.

    It will drop below 50 million in 2044 and to fewer than 40 million in 2066. By 2078 it will have fallen below 30 million.

    But even that estimate is based on a birthrate of 1.27 and a continued influx of immigrants.

    The population of productive age between 15 and 64 started dwindling in 2017 and the trend is progressing rapidly. It will fall by 330,000 annually in the 2020s and another 520,000 every year in the 2030s, reaching just 17.84 million, half of the current level, by 2066.

    The biggest variable is the birthrate. Statistics Korea said the total fertility rate will fall to 0.86 in 2021 but rebound to 1.1 in 2028 and 1.27 in 2040.

    "We reflected factors like the baby-boomer generation retiring after 2020, leading to better job prospects for younger people and thus a growing number of marriages and childbirth, while women born in 1991, when the birthrate was relatively high, enter their early 30s, the prime age for childbirth," Statistics Korea said.

    But critics believe even these forecasts are too rosy considering how reluctant Koreans now are to have children. 

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