South Korea Logs World’s Lowest Fertility Rate

Newborn baby concept, Asian Baby boy
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South Korea recorded the world’s lowest fertility rate in 2021, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, noting that the development supports a current prediction by demographers that South Korea’s population of 51 million will more than halve by 2100.

Statistics Korea, which is a bureau of South Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, released new data this week showing that the country’s fertility rate dropped to 0.81 in 2021.

“It was the lowest since the statistics agency began compiling related data in 1970. Last year also marked the fourth straight year that the number was below 1,” Yonhap News Agency observed on August 24.

Fertility rates below 2.1 are considered too low to guarantee the stability of a population.

“Generally speaking, when the TFR [total fertility rate] is greater than 2.1, the population in a given area will increase, and when it is less than 2.1, the population in a given area will eventually decrease, though it may take some time because factors such as age structure, emigration, or immigration must be considered,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

A fertility rate is a measure of the number of children a woman would give birth to “if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years,” according to the World Bank.

South Korea’s fertility rate was the lowest among all 38 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in both 2021 and 2020.

“In most OECD countries, the total fertility rate sits at somewhere between 1.3 and 1.9 children per woman, but in 2020 the TFR was as low as 0.84 in Korea,” the intergovernmental organization observed in May.

The OECD largely consists of developed countries with high-income economies, such as South Korea. Seoul’s latest fertility data has cast a shadow over South Korea’s ability to maintain its status as a global economic leader, as a contracting population translates to a shrinking workforce.

“A shrinking workforce is a major factor in the decline of Korea’s potential [economic] growth rate,” Bloomberg noted on Tuesday. “The working-age population peaked at 37.3 million in 2020 and is set to fall by almost half by 2070, according to Statistics Korea.”

Bank of Korea Governor Rhee Chang-yong warned on April 21 that South Korea’s economy faces a long-term risk of “secular stagnation,” or little to no economic growth, due to the country’s aging population, which would not be conducive to workforce productivity.

“He said rising welfare spending would take away from the finance needed to boost economic growth, a key goal set out by [South Korean President] Yoon [Suk-yeol] in his inauguration pledges,” Bloomberg recalled on August 23.


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