South Korea: What Is Behind The Country’s Falling Birth Rate?

When thinking about South Korea, K-pop and the nuclear-armed neighbour North Korea are amongst the first few things that come to our mind. But, the declining birth rate, ageing population, and deepening gaps between births and death per years are concerning Asia’s fourth-biggest economy.

But what could be the reason behind steadily declining birth in the east-Asian country? How will this fall affect the nation’s future? And what can be done to revive South Korea from the current state?

Declining Birth-Rates Of South Korea

South Korea’s birth rates have been consistently falling for over a decade; but the new figures, depicting data of 2020 published by the Ministry of Interior and Safety have put the leaders in great agony. Experts have long warned the government about the country’s demographic trends; Today, South Korea holds the record for the world’s lowest birth rates.

The census data showed 20,838 births fall from 2019 when compared to 2020 data. Along side, death rates have also increased by more than 3% from 2019. While releasing the data, the ministry stated; “amid the rapidly declining birth-rate, the government needs to undertake fundamental changes to its relevant policies.”

The main driver behind the declining birth rates of South Korea is believed to be the rising cost of raising children and housing in the country. According to Knight Frank’s global wealth consultancy report, South Korean cities witnessed a sharp increase of 22% in the housing rates in 2020; i.e. the highest raise amongst all the major Asian countries.

The country’s fertility rate has fallen by almost four times in comparison to the last baby boom in the 1970s, which is leading to a demographic crisis. In many villages of South Korea, the elderly make a huge part of the population, but children are scarce. Today, the nation’s fertility rate has fallen to 0.84 from 4.5 in 1970, which is far below the 2.1 thresholds required to maintain a healthy balance between the elderly and working population.

Furthermore, young South Koreans, like the rest of the world are putting children after their career. The industrial boom in the 1970s and 1980s demanded a workforce, thus opened new career opportunities for women, which have been soaring ever since. Balancing work life, which is becoming more demanding every single day with parenting life is difficult, and youth today understands it. Lim Yu-Jin, a student in Cheongju says; “If I have to choose between having a career and raising a child, I have no doubt whatsoever that I will choose my career. I am not going to let child-raising block my career.”

Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has discouraged people from having babies, as the uncertainty of life has increased.

Why Is Low Birth-Rate A Problem?

A low birth rate means that in the coming future, the country will fall short of the working population. With more elderly to serve and fewer hands to carry on the economic activities, the country will fall into a demographic crisis caused by an ageing population. A large retired population will increase the demand for healthcare and pensions, which will strain the country’s health and social infrastructure.

Education has also become a challenge for many small towns and villages, as half of the country’s 51.7 million population lives in metropolitan cities like the capital, Seoul. Learning facilities for towns with fewer children population have become scarce. The high cost of living in Seoul and other major cities holds parents back from moving to the metropolitan areas where better education facilities are available.

But, on the flip side, less population, will also mean a better infrastructure as it will have to serve less people. More job opportunities will grow, and demand for immigrant workers will increase thus boosting country’s economy.

What Is The Government Doing?

President Moon Jae-in understands the necessity of this dire strait, therefore the government have decided to do some ‘fundamental changes’ for stemming the trend.

The government have announced numerous incentives to financially support parents and promote parenting amongst young South Koreans. Starting from 2022, every couple will receive 2 million won for each child born. Furthermore, 300,00 won will be provided every month to take care of the child, which will be increased to 500,000 won after 2025.

Is South Korea Alone In This Agony?

South Korea’s falling birth-rate problems are not unique to the peninsula, Japan has long been the spotlight of the ageing population. And now after reaching a peak at the beginning of the century, China is also following the same path, but mainly because of its one-child policy. Moreover, every developed country is witnessing a falling graph of child birth per year.

According to the Lancet Analytics released in July 2020, the world’s population will peak with 9.73 billion people in 2064, and then the curve will start falling. So, no South Korea is not along with the falling birth rate, in the coming future, the trend will be the same in almost all the countries. But, maintaining a healthy balance is important and let’s hope that the government policies, help in reviving South Korea’s falling birth rates.