For the first time in history, South Korea’s population is dropping

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Aging population and low birth rate build demographic tipping point in Asia’s fourth-largest economy

For the first time in the history of the world, South Korea’s population has dropped as it deals with an ageing population and a chronically low birth rate. The new census results, published over the weekend, showed the population at the end of December stood at 51,829,023, down 20,838 from a year earlier. Over the past decade, the population of South Korea had risen every year, although the growth rate had fell from 1.49 percent in 2010 to 0.05 percent in 2019, according to Yonhap news agency. Politician scolds professor for not getting a childRead moreData published by Yonhap showed that 275,815 births were registered in the country in 2020, compared to 307,764 deaths. The development, which has also led to a population decline in neighboring Japan, is rising pressure on the government to tackle the long-term demographic challenges of an increasingly ageing society and one of the world’s lowest birth rates. “In light of the rapidly declining birth rate, the government needs to make fundamental changes in its corresponding policies,” the Interior Ministry said. While the overall population is shrinking, the number of elderly in South Korea, the fourth largest economy in Asia, is also growing, with over 60 people accounting for 24% of the total population. Depopulation is not confined to aging rural areas; according to Yonhap, the population of the capital, Seoul, dropped last year by just over 60,000 people. The government of President Moon Jae-in recently introduced policies to encourage couples to start larger families, including a one-time payment of 1 million won [£675] for pregnant women and monthly cash incentives for children under 12 months. However, critics argue these interventions do little to overcome the much larger financial barriers to raising more children, such as high costs of schooling and housing. In addition to pressures on family finances, some analysts have pointed to growing reluctance among South Korean women to comply with social norms by raising children and caring for elderly in-laws while their husbands work. In 2018, only slightly more than 22 percent of South Korean women who were single or never married said they believed that marriage bonds were a required part of life. The change is reflected in a decrease in the number of marriages, from 434,900 in 1996 to 257,600 last year. The birth rate in South Korea – or the average number of children a woman has over her lifetime – dropped to a record low of 0.92 in 2019, the lowest among all members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s well below the 2.1 rate that the country requires to keep its population stable, and a drastic decrease from 50 years ago, when the birth rate was 4.53. If current patterns continue, by 2067, the government estimates that the population of South Korea will fall to 39 million, when more than 46% of the population will be over 64 years old.

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