South Korea’s birth rate falls to 0.72, another new low

Posted on : 2024-02-29 16:49 KST Modified on : 2024-02-29 16:49 KST
Firstborns’ share of live births was 60.1%, the first time that figure has exceeded 60%

South Korea posted a birth rate of 0.72 in 2023, setting another record low. The number of live births also fell below 240,000 for the first time in the country’s history.

Current trends suggest that Korea’s total fertility rate will drop below 0.7 in 2024; Statistics Korea predicts that the rate will reach 0.68. Notably, the fertility rate reached 0.65 in the fourth quarter of last year, which was the first quarter with a rate below 0.7.

According to birth and death statistics from the 2023 Population Trends Survey that were released by Statistics Korea on Wednesday, Korea’s total fertility rate last year was 0.72, which was 0.06 lower than 2022 (0.78). The total fertility rate signifies the average number of children that a woman is expected to have over the course of her lifetime.

Korea’s total fertility rate had been slowly shrinking since falling below two children in 1984 (1.74) but remained above one child in the 2000s. The fertility rate dropped below one child for the first time in 2018 (0.98) and has continued to drop since then.

Last year’s rate of 0.72 is the lowest Korea has recorded since it began to track the statistic in 1970. That’s less than half the OECD average of 1.58 (as of 2021); in fact, South Korea is the only OECD member state whose birth rate is below one child.

The statistics show that Korea’s fertility rate has also dropped below 0.7 for the first time on a quarterly basis. The rate in the fourth quarter of 2023 was 0.65, which was 0.05 below the rate in the fourth quarter of 2022 (0.70), which had barely held the 0.7 line.

In terms of regions, Sejong City, which has had a higher fertility rate than Korea’s other cities and provinces, recorded a rate of 0.97 last year. That put all of Korea’s 17 cities and provinces below the one child mark for the first time ever.

The number of live births also reached an all-time low at 230,000, which was 19,200 fewer than the previous year. While around a million children were being born in Korea each year in the 1970s, that metric dropped below 600,000 in 2001 and below 500,000 in 2002. It remained in that range until 2017, when it dropped below 400,000, and then fell below 300,000 just three years later, in 2020.

The age-specific birth rate (the number of live births per 1,000 women of a given age) was 66.7 for women aged 30-34. That was 6.8 fewer than the previous year, representing the sharpest decrease on record. The yearly birth rate for women aged 25-29 was 21.4, a decrease of 2.6 from the previous year.

The percentage of pregnancies that occur at an advanced maternal age (35 years and above) was 36.3%, a year-over-year increase of 0.6 points. The average age at childbirth was 33.6 years, rising 0.1 years to the highest point since record-keeping began.

In addition, firstborns’ share of live births was 60.1%, the first time that figure has exceeded 60%.

As for the number of marriages, which is directly linked to fertility, Korea recorded 193,673 marriages last year, up 1.0% from the previous year. But on a monthly basis, marriages in November (16,695) and December (17,582) were 4.4% and 11.6% lower, respectively, than in the same month in 2022, suggesting a downward trend in marriages.

Since deaths outnumbered births, Korea’s population declined naturally for the fourth year in a row. Last year’s population decrease of 122,800 was 1,000 fewer than the previous year, but continues a population decline that began in 2020.

“We are projecting that this year’s birth rate will decrease from 2023 to 0.68. But given the increase in marriages, the rate could rebound next year or the year after that,” said Lim Young-il, the chief of the population trends section at Statistics Korea.

By Ahn Tae-ho, staff reporter

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