Ominous low birth rate continues
Fewer newborns means trouble ahead for economy, welfare
Korea’s birth rate has maintained a record low for two consecutive years, a government report on Thursday showed, as more women marry later and have only one child.
The low birth rate is a big concern in Korea’s rapidly aging society, in the long run shrinking the work force, eroding economic growth and increasing the burden on the nation’s social welfare system.
According to the annual report from Statistics Korea, the birth rate was 8.6 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2014.
The total number of births dropped to 435,300, 1,200 fewer than the previous year.
One reason for the low birth rate was an increasing number of women delaying marriage to their 30s.
The report says 32.1 percent of married women in 2014 were age 30 to 34, up from 27.3 percent in 2011. On the contrary, the ratio of women married between the ages of 25 and 29 shrank to 36.5 percent, from 43.1 percent in 2011.
Accordingly, the average age of first-time mothers in 2014 was 30.97 years, up by nearly three months from 2013.
Women age 34 and older accounted for 21.6 percent of first-time mothers, the highest percentage since the government began tracking birth statistics.
Another factor for the low birth rate was more that fewer women had a second child, according to the report.
There were 225,100 first children born in 2014, a 0.1 percentage point increase from 2013. However, the number of second children plunged to 165,400, the lowest since 1981, the report said. There were only 43,800 third children born last year, falling by 3.1 percentage points compared to 2013.
“One of the core factors for the low birth rate was the decreasing number of women in their child-bearing years due to the government’s birth control policy 20 years ago in the baby-boom generation,” said Yoon Yean-ok, a director of the Vital Statistics Division of Statistics Korea. “Also, the trend of women who don’t get married or marry later helped keep the birth rate low. Even if they get married in their 30s or 40s, having additional children becomes a financial burden.”
Meanwhile, the number of deaths per 1,000 population dropped in most age groups, the report said, particularly age 90 and older.
The number of deaths in the country rose by 1,900 to 268,100, the report said.
The number of people age 90 and older who died per 1,000 population dropped from 227.1 in 2013 to 214.9 last year, a decline of 12.2 percentage points.
“If the current trend continues, the population of Korea would dramatically plunge by 10 million by 2050 and as much as 50 percent by 2100,” said Lee Sam-sik, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs. “The diminishing members of younger generations would have more of a burden to support the elderly, which would result in much higher welfare costs in the future.”
BY KIM HEE-JIN [email@example.com]