South Korea’s demographic challenge persists as fresh data released on Wednesday unveils a concerning decline in the number of newborns, alongside an accelerated aging population.
The figures for July this year showed that only 19,102 babies were born, a stark 6.7 percent decline from the previous year. This downward trend has been consistent, with the country witnessing a decrease in birth rates for 10 straight months.
This drop in the number of births for July is particularly noteworthy since it’s the first time the figures have fallen below the 20,000 mark since Statistics Korea started its data compilation in 1981. This statistic is not just a record but a glaring indicator of the demographic challenges the nation faces.
Simultaneously, the other side of the demographic coin is equally concerning. Deaths in South Korea rose by 8.3 percent, reaching 28,238 in the same month, attributable mainly to an aging populace.
The discrepancy between births and deaths meant a natural decrease in the population by 9,137. For 45 consecutive months now, the number of deaths has outnumbered births, accentuating the urgency of the demographic crisis.
Adding to the complexity, the country also witnessed a dip in marriages by 5.3 percent, totaling 14,155, while divorces slightly reduced by 0.5 percent to stand at 7,500. These figures further contribute to the ongoing demographic conundrum.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation came last month when the agency highlighted the alarming drop in South Korea’s total fertility rate. The rate, representing the average number of children a woman is expected to have during her lifetime, plunged to a historic low of 0.7 in the second quarter of 2023, marking a decrease of 0.05 from the previous year.
To contextualize this figure, the replacement level needed to sustain South Korea’s population at its current 51 million is 2.1. The present rate is significantly below this, signaling potential challenges for the nation’s future.
The country’s demographic dilemma, if not addressed, could lead to significant societal and economic repercussions, including a potential labor shortage, an increased burden on social welfare, and a reduced consumer base. As the country grapples with these realities, policymakers and society at large will need to identify strategic interventions that can reverse or at least manage this decline to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future.