The number of babies born in South Korea fell to the second-lowest level in 2014, a report showed Thursday, deepening concerns that the country's growth will be undermined by its low birthrate.
According to the report by Statistics Korea, 435,300 babies were born last year, down 1,200, or 0.3 percent, from a year earlier. Last year's numbers also mark the second year of contraction in a row.
The office that started compiling childbirth data in 1970 said 2005 was the only year that the number was lower. There were 435,031 babies born that year. More than 1 million babies were born in South Korea every year in the early 1970s.
"The drop is directly related to the decreased population of women in their 20s and 30s, as well as women putting off marriage," said Yoon Yean-ok, director of population statistics at the agency.
Data showed that the average age that a mother had her first born was 32.04 last year, up from 30.73 a year earlier. It also showed that 21.6 percent of these mothers were over 35 years of age.
"There is a steady drop in mothers in their 20s, with the slack being taken up by those in their 30s," Yoon said. She pointed out that with women getting married later in life and having their first child when they are older, the number of women having more children is falling. As of 2013, the average age of a bride in the country was 29.6 and was predicted to have hit 30 last year.
The latest data showed that the number of second children reached 165,400 last year, down 0.2 percent from the year before and the lowest since 1981. Statistics for a third child were down 3.1 percent on-year to 43,800.
The report, on the other hand, showed the total fertility rate, or the average number of babies that a woman is projected to have during her lifetime, reached 1.21 last year from the previous year's 1.19. The slight improvement is mainly the result of women in their late 30s having babies.
This is a positive step, although 1.21 is way below the 2.1 needed to prevent a drop in population. Predictions have indicated that South Korea's population will peak in 2030.
South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Last year, the country's natural population increase rate fell to 3.3 percent, the lowest ever reported.
The latest annual report will further fuel concerns that the country's chronically low birthrate will result in a smaller working population down the road, eventually hurting the country's economic growth and undermining its growth potential. An aging population can result in greater welfare outlays.
For the month of December, the statistical office said there were 32,700 newborns in the country, up 2.2 percent from the year before. There were 24,400 deaths, up 4.7 percent.
The number of people tying the knot reached 34,300, and the number of divorces reached 9,900.
In a separate report on population mobility, the statistics agency said that the number of people changing their official residence in January rose 6 percent on-year to about 620,000. The increase follows data that showed a steady rise in sales of houses in the country.
The administrative city of Sejong saw the sharpest rise in population, followed by Gyeonggi Province and the port city of Incheon. Seoul lost the most people, with Busan trailing in second place. (Yonhap)