Why Does South Korea Have The Lowest Birth Rate In the World At 0.9 Births Per Woman?

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Introduction to Why Does South Korea Have The Lowest Birth Rate In the World At 0.9 Births Per Woman?

In the 1950s, South Korea was one of the world’s largest economies. However, after the Korean War and a series of economic disasters, it became one of the poorest countries in Asia. With a current fertility rate of only 0.9 (compared to 2.4 worldwide) South Korea has earned its place as having the lowest fertility rate in the world. As of April 2016, South Korea has the highest elderly dependency ratio in the world, with 26% of its total population being over 65 and only 14.4% of its population being between 15 and 64. Even so, South Korea’s population growth rate (0.08) is still higher than that of Japan (-0.09). This poses many social and economic questions for this rapidly aging and highly developed country.

The Decline In South Korea’s Population Growth

In the 1960s, South Korean government initiatives to promote rapid economic growth coupled with strong anti-communist sentiment led to preferential treatment of male children. Parents were encouraged to have more boys to ensure future security against communism rather than girls who were expected to leave home after marriage, weakening the household economy. This combined with many superstitions around giving birth to girls led to a sharp dip in South Korea’s fertility rates.

In the 1970s, South Korean government initiatives aimed at reducing population growth in response to its economic crisis caused by the Vietnam War and other factors such as food shortages and high oil prices led to overly aggressive family planning policies. This included financial incentives for men and women who chose sterilization, negative incentives for those who least followed the policy or had more children than allowed by policy, compulsory sterilization for women with more than two children, mandatory class announcements of sterilization surgery dates, compulsory tubal ligation prior to marriage and forced abortion of female fetuses.

In the 1980s, South Korea’s fertility rate began to increase at a rate of 0.576% per year, but the government’s pro-natalist policies continued. In 1983, the government initiative ‘Mothers and Babies 1000 Plan’ encouraged women to have 1000 babies to counter population decline. A famous slogan during this campaign was: “Give me a baby in my stomach right now!” The government also introduced a tax deduction policy for parents with more than 2 children and introduced mandatory pre-marriage counseling on family planning options including sterilization and abortion.

In the 1990s, South Korean economic growth came to a halt due to an Asian financial crisis. With an aging population and low fertility rate, South Korea’s economic vitality is at stake. In response to a government policy to encourage high-skilled emigration and overseas employment, many of the country’s brightest young people are leaving South Korea for better opportunities elsewhere.

Recent studies show a further decline in population among South Korean people who are younger than 35 has been partly due to the fact that on average they are marrying later in life and are waiting longer to have children. Unfortunately for South Korea, with ever-growing competition for new jobs and the high cost of living this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Rapidly Aging South Korea

Rapidly Aging South Korea

As of April 2016, South Korea has the highest elderly dependency ratio in the world. With 26% of its total population being over 65 and only 14.4% of its population being between 15 and 64, South Korea is rapidly aging. The government projects that within the next seven years its working-age population will shrink by one million people. This poses many social, political, and economic questions for this rapidly aging country.

South Korea also boasts an incredibly healthy economy as of 2021, with a GDP per capita of $36,306. This is 5th highest in the world in GDP per capita, and 16th highest in GDP per capita, among other countries, which, under typical circumstances, would promote fertility rates in other countries, but this is not the case for South Korea unfortunately. Despite the large economy, economic equality is still a large problem for South Koreans and this is reflected in the low birthrate, as some South Koreans cannot simply afford the extremely high cost of living, and with high competition for new jobs, this seems unlikely to change.

South Korea has a high level of educational attainment in comparison to other countries and a relatively high median age of 40.2 years compared to the worldwide median age of 29.8 years. South Korea’s fertility rate is currently at a record low of 0.9 per woman (compared to 1.7 in the US and 2.4 Globally), which causes very low population growth and future economic troubles as the number of children decreases and the elderly increase in number.

South Korea’s Fertility Rate Against Its Neighbors

Fertility Rate in South Korea


Population Growth Rate in Japan

population growth rate in japan

While South Korea’s fertility rate is being discussed in this article, their neighbor Japan seems to be not fairing much better in the same regard as a developed nation having a birth rate of only 1.36 and a population growth rate of -0.3% while being the second-lowest in the world in population growth after Ukraine’s -0.6%.

China, with a fertility rate of 1.6% and a population of 1.4 billion people, faces a similar “demographic time bomb” similar to South Korea but has taken steps to address it. China will continue to lose 1 million potential taxpayers annually from now until 2020 due to the low fertility rate and will see an aging population grow from 12 percent of the total population in 2004 to 40 percent in 2050, but it is still nowhere as severe as the case in South Korea.

South Korea’s Attempts At Recovering The Population Growth

South Korea Attempts At Recovering The Population Growth

The South Korean government is actively promoting population growth through its “2.1 M” plan to double the country’s population by 2025. The reason for encouraging rapid population growth is to increase labor resources, boost economic growth and also reduce Korea’s aging population which will cause a negative impact on the economy and demographics if left unattended, especially considering the threats it faces with North Korea. The plan includes various policies to create an environment conducive to childbirth, such as improving childcare services, establishing a promotion center for childbirth, parenting education, and increasing government funding for fertility treatments. The plan is expected to cost ₩770 trillion (US$680 billion).


Why Does South Korea Have The Lowest Birth Rate

South Korea’s fertility rate shows no signs of increasing and remains significantly lower than the global average of 2.4 children per couple. The country’s low fertility rate has led to an aging population. The number of elderly citizens is skyrocketing while the number of young South Koreans entering the job market is decreasing, creating a situation where there will be insufficient workers to support the elderly population in the future. As workers retire and live longer, they will not have enough money saved up for their retirement years. This poses a social problem for many elderly in poverty and government expenditure on elder care will strain government resources in the future, especially for its younger and more fertile citizens to support.

South Korea’s fertility rate (0.9) is the lowest in the world, which has led to an aging population and a low birth rate. South Korea’s economic growth has been stunted by its low fertility rate, with no signs of recovery in the near future. South Korea’s low fertility rate poses questions on how this country will sustain its aging population, deal with social and economic problems that are caused by an aging society, and innovate its economy to adapt to this changing demographic. With a declining population and already less than 60 million citizens, there is no clear solution presented to what is otherwise a very serious problem.

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