That Korea has one of the world’s lowest birthrates and it is headed to become a super-aging society is hardly news anymore. Yet, the latest government statistics on the falling birthrate should ring an alarm bell.
The number of babies born in the country dropped for the first time in four years in 2013. The 436,600 babies born last year was a decrease of 48,000 or 9.9 percent from a year earlier. The number represents the lowest since 2005 and marks the first time since 2009 that the number of births has declined on a year-on-year basis.
The total fertility rate, or the average number of babies that a woman is projected to have between the ages of 15 and 49, dropped to 1.19 last year from the previous year’s 1.3. It is troubling that the rate, which had been rising to 1.24 in 2011 and 1.3 in 2012, had fallen back down.
The biggest problem is that an increasing number of women are avoiding or postponing marriage and childbirth. Government statistics show that the average age of new mothers stood at 30.73, the highest since authorities started to compile related data. Also, the ratio of those aged 35 and older account for 20.2 percent of all women who had babies last year.
In this modern era, a low birthrate might be inevitable, but the latest statistics oblige us to think about what we have been doing and what we need to do to prevent a demographic crisis.
For instance, countries who have succeeded in checking a freefall in birthrate, such as France, Germany and the U.K., have all spent 3 to 4 percent of their GDPs for many years fighting the declining birthrates.
In contrast, Korea, which only began to set aside a budget for boosting the birthrate in 2006, spent only 1.13 percent of its GDP last year. This alone could be good evidence that we are not yet taking the problem seriously.