For the first time ever, South Korea recorded more deaths than births, prompting calls for “fundamental changes” to its policies.
The East Asian country, which is home to 51.83 million people, has the world’s lowest birth rate.
The latest census data from the Ministry of Interior and Safety show that only 275,815 babies were born in 2020 — down 10.65% from 2019. Meanwhile, the number of deaths reached 307,764.
Rising unemployment, property prices and other financial burdens reportedly deter South Koreans from starting a family.
Hyun-yu Kim, a young South Korean woman who recently secured a new job, told BBC News: “People tell me that it’s safer to build my career first… In order to have children, you need to have your own home. But this has become an impossible dream in Korea.”
Shin Eun-ji, who works in Seoul, echoed this sentiment, as reported by the South China Morning Post. “I can manage to get by alone now but if I get married and start a family, it would be quite a burden for me to pay for living costs, repay housing loans and finance the education of the children.”
South Korea’s birth rate fell to 0.84 in the third quarter of 2020, according to The Korea Herald. In comparison, the global average sits at 2.5 children per woman, while 2.1 is needed to balance a country’s death rate.
“The constant decline in birth rate shows that low birth rate remains as a big issue in Korea,” the Ministry of Interior and Safety said in a news release on Monday. “There needs to be a fundamental change in the governmental policies such as welfare, education, and national defense, accordingly.”
Over the past 14 years, administrations have poured around 185 trillion won ($171 billion) on incentives to improve the country’s birth rate. Last December, President Moon Jae-in announced new policies to achieve this goal.
Under the latest scheme, every child born from 2022 is entitled to receive 2 million won ($1,830) for prenatal expenses, according to Yonhap News. Each infant will also receive a monthly allowance of 300,000 won ($275) until they turn 1. This amount will increase to 500,000 won ($460) in 2025.
The latest census release does not mention causes of deaths, however. According to CNN, some experts previously warned that COVID-19 — which has killed more than 1,000 people in the country — could skew birth and death rates.
South Korea appears to share the same demographic fate as Japan for similar reasons. The latter is now harnessing artificial intelligence to make people date.
Feature Image Screenshots via KBS News