S. Korea ranks lowest in fertility rate among 198 countries, UN reports

Posted on : 2021-04-15 17:03 KST Modified on : 2021-04-15 17:03 KST
South Korea’s total fertility rate was calculated at 1.1, putting the country dead last among 198 countries and regions
The newborn nursery at a hospital in Seoul (Hankyoreh photo archives)
The newborn nursery at a hospital in Seoul (Hankyoreh photo archives)

A recent UN report confirmed the severity of South Korea’s low birth rate and aging population issues.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published Wednesday “My Body Is My Own,” a report on the state of the world’s population in 2021. According to statistics in the report, South Korea’s total fertility rate, or the number of children predicted to be born to a single woman in her lifetime, was calculated at 1.1.

The number put South Korea dead last among 198 countries and regions examined.

This marks the second straight year South Korea has come last for the total fertility rate, having slipped to the bottom rung last year from 192nd place (1.3) in 2019. The rate was lower than the 1.4 recorded in Japan, which has been experiencing a decline in its total population since its peak in 2008.

At 12.3%, South Korea and Japan also shared the bottom spot in terms of the proportion of its total population aged 14 years and under. The percentage was less than half the global average of 25.3%.

While South Korea ranked ahead of Japan (12.4%) and Singapore (12.3%) last year with 12.5% of its population aged 14 and under, the latest numbers showed it slipping into a tie for dead last.

The proportion of the population aged 65 and older stood at 16.6%, an increase of 0.8 percentage points from 15.8% last year.

A rate of 7% or more of the total population aged 65 and older is considered an “aging society,” while rates of 14% or more and 20% or more are respectively viewed as representing an “aged society” and “hyperaging society.” According to the latest numbers, South Korea is poised to join the ranks of hyperaging societies.

Japan currently has the highest proportion of its population aged 65 and older, at 28.7%. The global average is 9.6%.

Average life expectancy for South Koreans was calculated at 80 years for males and 86 years for females.

The trend of population increase has been leveling off due to the low birth rate and aging population phenomena. South Korea’s average annual population growth rate between 2015 and 2020 was 0.2%, far below the 1.1% global average.

The population statistics used for the report were based on UNICEF multiple indicator cluster surveys and UN estimates, which may differ slightly from the figures announced by individual governments. According to Statistics Korea, South Korea’s fertility rate was calculated at 0.918 as of 2019 — meaning that it had already dropped below 1.

The theme for this year’s UNFPA report was the exercising of women’s right to sexual self-determination. In the report, the UNFPA calculated a 49% global average of contraception practice among women aged 15 to 49.

The rate fell to 45% when calculations were restricted to modern methods. The respective rates in South Korea were 81% and 73%.

The report estimated that, on average, females around the world enjoy only 75% of the legal rights available to males.

By Cho Ki-weon, staff reporter

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