South Korea’s fertility rate hits record low 

South Korea faces record-low fertility rates amidst economic and social pressures, underscoring urgent need for comprehensive policy interventions.

South Korea’s already precarious fertility rate has taken another sharp dive in 2023, reaffirming its position as the world’s lowest. Data from Statistics Korea revealed that the average number of expected babies per woman plummeted to a record low of 0.72, down from 0.78 in the previous year. This decline underscores mounting concerns among women regarding career advancement and the financial burden associated with raising children.

The persistently low fertility rate, well below the replacement level of 2.1, poses significant challenges for sustaining population growth and economic stability. Despite extensive efforts by the South Korean government, including substantial investments, the population continues to dwindle for the fourth consecutive year.

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A key factor contributing to the declining birth rate is the formidable gender pay gap in South Korea, the worst among OECD countries. Women often face obstacles in career progression due to primary childcare responsibilities, leading to prolonged absences from the workforce and limited opportunities for advancement.

Jung Jae-hoon, a professor at Seoul Women’s University, highlighted the dilemma faced by many women, who must weigh the desire for motherhood against career aspirations. It was seen that there were concerns about balancing work commitments with starting a family, citing the challenging corporate culture and limited flexibility in Korean companies.

The demographic decline poses grave implications for South Korea’s economic growth and social welfare system, with projections suggesting a halving of the population by the end of the century. Despite pledges from major political parties to address the issue through initiatives such as public housing and financial incentives for childbirth, reversing the fertility decline remains a formidable challenge.

Marriage rates are also dwindling in South Korea, reflecting shifting societal norms and economic uncertainties. Efforts to boost the birth rate have so far yielded limited success, with the capital city Seoul experiencing particularly low fertility rates amidst soaring housing costs.

The demographic crisis extends beyond South Korea, with neighbouring Japan and China also grappling with declining birth rates. Japan recorded a fertility rate of 1.26 in 2022, while China’s rate plummeted to 1.09, underscoring a regional trend of ageing populations and diminishing workforce.

South Korea’s ongoing fertility decline underscores the urgent need for comprehensive policies to address economic, social, and cultural factors contributing to this demographic challenge. Effective interventions and supportive measures are imperative to safeguarding the country’s future prosperity and social well-being.