South Korea: a drop in the birth rate, but not only

Which country in the world has the lowest birth rate?

South Korea is once again the winner.

The collapse in births continues, with only 230,000 newborns in 2023, or 7.7% less than the previous year.

But South Korea is far from being the only country in Asia to be faced with this collapse in the birth rate.

In South Korea, the birth rate last year stood at 0.72 children per woman.

CC0 Pixabay/marcelodorileo

By: Heike Schmidt Follow


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The drop in the number of births is dizzying, but anything but recent in South Korea.

In 2018, the country became the first member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to have a birth rate of less than one child per woman.

Nowhere else in the world are women so reluctant to have babies.

New data published Wednesday, February 28, by the public statistics body confirm this already well-established trend.

Last year, the birth rate averaged just 0.72 children per woman.

This is the lowest birth rate since 1970. However, to maintain the population at its current level of 51 million individuals, three times more would be needed.

If nothing changes, South Korea's population will lose almost half its population, reaching 26.9 million in 2100, according to the University of Washington in Seattle, United States.

Experts no longer hesitate to speak of the risk of “ 

national extinction”.

Nearly 250 billion euros in aid has not reversed the trend

How can we explain the fact that South Korean couples are having fewer and fewer babies?

The high costs of raising children, very high real estate prices, a rigid and competitive business culture and South Korean tradition

who wants one to be married before starting a family are among the factors contributing to this demographic collapse.

Aware of the decline of its population, successive governments have been trying for decades to stem the phenomenon.

In vain.

Nearly 250 billion euros allocated to families since 2006 have failed to boost the fertility rate.

Whether it is housing assistance or free hospital services, nothing seems to be able to convince couples to have more children.

The subject also risks finding its way into the electoral campaign for the legislative elections scheduled for next April: certain politicians no longer hesitate to speak of a "

 national emergency", 

and the promises of the main parties are going well, ranging from the proposal to increase the number of social housing until credits are granted.

South Korea, a case far from isolated in Asia

South Korea is far from being the only Asian country to be faced with a decline in births: Japan, China and Taiwan are facing the same phenomenon.

Japan's fertility rate fell to 1.26 children per woman on average in 2022, while mainland China has a rate of 1.09.

Only Taiwan suffers from an even lower birth rate, with an average of 0.87 children per woman in 2022. The number of births there fell by 30% last year compared to 2017. Even a much higher fertility rate in India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh will not reverse the trend: Asia is aging.

In China, Japan, and Taiwan, births are also in free fall

In China, no pronatalist campaign has been able to change the situation since the abandonment of the one-child policy in 2015. Last year, the population fell further, and the country recorded the highest birth rate low since the publication of the first statistics in 1949, with 6.39 births per 1000 people, compared to 6.77 per year in 2022.

Same in Japan,

where the number of births fell for the eighth consecutive year in 2023: with 758,631 newborns, their number fell by 5.1%.

According to estimates from the National Institute for Population and National Security Research, the Japanese population is expected to decline by around 30% to reach 87 million inhabitants in 2070. Four out of ten people would then be aged 65 or over .

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who believes that this is the 

“most serious crisis facing our country” 

and which

 “will soon threaten the proper functioning of society”, 

is banking on a series of measures intended to support couples of childbearing age.

But just as in South Korea, China or even Taiwan, there is no evidence so far that these policies aimed at encouraging births have the slightest effect.

Also read: For the first time, South Korea sees its population decline


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