Korea's Population Decline 'Worse Than Medieval Plague'

  • By Yoon Ju-heon

    December 04, 2023 09:46

    Korea's population decline is happening faster than the ravages the Black Death wrought in Europe in the late middle ages, a New York Times columnist has suggested.
    Under the headline "Is [Korea] Disappearing?" Ross Douthat last Saturday said the country will experience "a depopulation exceeding what the Black Death delivered to Europe in the 14th century" if its population declines at the current rate. Korea "has been a striking case study in the depopulation problem that hangs over the developed world."
    Statistics Korea said last month that Korea's fertility rate or the number of children that are born to a woman over her lifetime fell to a record-low 0.7 child in the third quarter of this year, the lowest in the OECD. Korea's fertility rate plummeted 86.4 percent from 1960 to 2021, the steepest in the world.
    "A country that sustained a birthrate at that level would have, for every 200 people in one generation, 70 people in the next one," Douthat added.
    The number of children starting elementary school next year is expected to fall below 400,000 for the first time as childbirths fell from 406,243 in 2016 to 357,771 in 2017. Around 650,000 were born in 2004, but the figure has fallen more than 40 percent in the last two decades.
    Some 145 elementary schools did not welcome any first graders this year, and only around 200,000 kids will start kindergarten next year.
    That has a dramatic knock-on effect. Eun Ki-soo at Seoul National University said, "If the population declines sharply, it becomes impossible to manage the medical costs of the elderly through public health insurance and makes pension reform difficult. An ultra-low fertility rate is not a population problem but a matter of national security that threatens a country's extinction."
    He said unless the government establishes a ministry solely dedicated to tackling the problem, Korea will see "catastrophic" developments within the next 10 years.
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