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Demography is Destiny

The disappearing South Korean baby

The disappearing South Korean baby

by Marcus Roberts | April 10, 2018

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As we have discussed before, South Korean babies are rarer than they once were. In 2016 there were 406,300 babies orn in Sotuh Korea, a decline of 7.3 per cent on the year before. This trend continued last year; as Asia News reports, in 2017 there were only 357,700 babies born, a further decline of 11.9 per cent on 2016. The 2017 figure is also the lowest number of births per year since the statistics agency started to compile such data in 1970. (2017 also saw the number of marriages decline by over 6 per cent to 264,500.)

When the numbers are broken down by month the decline has been consistent since December 2015: in January 2018 about 32,100 babies were born: a decline of 8 per cent from January 2017. And, not surprisingly, the South Korean total fertility rate (the number of children a woman is predicted to have during her life) dropped to 1.05 in 2017, exactly half the rate of 2.1 which is commonly said to be the rate necessary for a population to replace itself naturally.

Thus, unless things change dramatically, the South Korean population is expected to decline in less than 15 years.

In the meantime, a rapidly ageing population, as well as a very low birthrate will mean that the available workforce in Asia’s fourth largest economy will shrink, and will also be expected to shoulder the burden of higher welfare costs for the growing number of elderly.

At the same time the government is also pouring large amounts (over USD 74 billion over the last decade) into measures designed to encourage its citizens to create more babies. So far, that investment seems to be wasted. As Shannon noted a few years ago, there is more to South Korean not having babies than a lack of financial incentives. So the South Korean baby will perhaps continue to become rarer. 

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