By Gawon Bae and Jessie Yeung, CNN
South Korea has broken its own record for the world’s lowest fertility rate, official figures showed Wednesday, as the country struggles to reverse its years-long trend of declining births.
The country’s fertility rate, which indicates the average number of children a woman will have in her lifetime, fell to 0.81 in 2021, 0.03% lower than the previous year, according to government body Statistics Korea.
To put that into perspective, the fertility rate in 2021 was 1.6 in the United States and 1.3 in Japan, which also saw its lowest rate on record last year. In some African countries, where fertility rates are the highest in the world, the figure is 5 or 6.
To maintain a stable population, countries need a fertility rate of 2.1 – anything above indicates population growth.
South Korea’s birth rate has been falling since 2015, and in 2020 the country recorded more deaths than births for the first time, meaning the number of people has shrunk, in what it is called a “cross of the death of the population”.
And as fertility rates fall, South Korean women are also having babies later in life. The average age of women who gave birth in 2021 was 33.4, 0.2 years older than the previous year, according to the statistics agency.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s population is also aging, indicating a demographic decline that experts say will leave the country with too few working-age people to support its burgeoning elderly population – both in paying taxes and working in jobs in areas such as health care and the home. assistance.
Last November, 16.8% of South Koreans were over 65, while only 11.8% were 14 or younger.
This proportion of older Koreans is growing rapidly — it grew by more than 5% between 2020 and 2021, according to census data. Meanwhile, the working-age population – people aged 15 to 64 – has shrunk by 0.9% between 2020 and 2021.
In South Korea and Japan, the decline in births is due to similar reasons, including demanding work cultures, stagnant wages, rising costs of living and soaring housing prices.
Many South Korean women say they simply don’t have the time, money, or emotional capacity to go on dates because they prioritize their careers in a highly competitive job market. in which they often face a patriarchal culture and gender inequality.
The South Korean government has introduced several measures in recent years to combat declining fertility rates, including allowing both parents to take parental leave at the same time and extending paid paternal leave.
Social campaigns have encouraged men to take a more active role in childcare and household chores, and in some parts of the country authorities are handing out “new baby vouchers” to encourage parents to have more children. .
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