S. Korea fertility rate drops for 4th consecutive year, beats own record for world’s lowest

S. Korea fertility rate drops for 4th consecutive year, beats own record for world’s lowest
via Jérémy Stenuit on Unsplash
Michelle De Pacina
February 29, 2024
South Korea’s fertility rate beat its own record for the world’s lowest fertility rate after dropping for the fourth consecutive year.
Population drop: On Wednesday, Statistics Korea reported an 8% decrease in the nation’s fertility rate in 2023 compared to the previous year. Experts warn that the current trend could lead to a significant decline in the country’s population, which stands at 51 million, potentially halving by the year 2100.
The average number of expected babies per South Korean woman’s lifetime dropped from 0.78 to 0.72 in 2022. Projections indicate a further decline to 0.68 in 2024. These figures are reportedly significantly below the 2.1 threshold needed to sustain a country’s population. The fertility decline is notably pronounced in Seoul, with the capital recording the lowest rate at 0.55.
Factors of the decline: According to experts, the low fertility rates are due to the country’s demanding work cultures, rising costs of living, changing attitudes toward marriage and gender equality and rising disillusionment among younger generations. 
Women, concerned about career advancement and the financial burden of raising children, are choosing to delay childbirth or forgo it altogether. Many do not feel obligated to raise a child, citing the costly expenses amid the uncertainty of a bleak job market, expensive housing and gender and social inequality. Women have also cited the patriarchal culture of childcare and discrimination at work. 
Addressing the decline: As South Korea approaches April elections, political parties are addressing the critical issue of population decline. The government has pledged “extraordinary measures” to tackle the situation. Since the decline started, the government has introduced multiple initiatives, such as offering monetary baby allowances of 1 million won ($767) as an incentive for more births, foreign and low-cost nannies and extended paid paternity leaves. Social campaigns have also encouraged men to help in childcare and housework.
Recently, a construction firm in South Korea also offered 100 million won ($75,000) for every child born to its employees in a bid to address the nation’s declining birth rates.
How it’s going: Despite spending over $270 billion in initiatives since 2006, the root causes persist. The workaholic culture and fierce workplace competition deter many women from having children, exacerbating the gender pay gap issue, which is the worst in the OECD. Financial concerns also hinder marriage, seen as a prerequisite for parenthood. 
Neighboring countries’ similar struggles: Similar concerns also affect neighboring countries like China and Japan, both experiencing record-low fertility rates and a demographic crisis with more deaths than births, leading to growing labor shortages. China, which currently holds the world’s second-largest population with over 1.4 billion people, may see that number shrink to 525 million by 2100
Japan recorded a fresh record low in the number of births for the eighth consecutive year in 2023, with a 5.1% decrease in births from the previous year, totaling 758,631. Additionally, marriages declined by 5.9% to 489,281, marking the first time in 90 years that the number fell below 500,000. 
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