South Korea's total fertility rate hit a record low of 0.92 in 2019, government data showed Wednesday, in a clear warning to the nation's economy over a population decline going forward.
The total fertility rate refers to the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime.
The 2019 figure is far below the replacement level of 2.1 that would keep South Korea's population stable at 51 million. It also represents a sharp drop from the 4.53 in 1970, when the government began to compile relevant data, according to Statistics Korea.
Last year marked the second consecutive year for the rate to fall below 1. South Korea was the only member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that had a total fertility rate below 1.
In comparison, the average fertility rate among OECD nations stood at 1.63.
South Korea's crude birthrate -- the number of births per 1,000 people per year -- also came to an all-time low of 5.9 in 2019, down from the previous year's 6.4
"Total fertility rate of less than 1 is extremely low and it means the population could decline at a very fast pace," a Statistics Korea official said.
The number of newborns in South Korea came to 302,700 in 2019, down 7.4 percent, or 24,100, from 2018, according to Statistics Korea. Last year's figure also marked the lowest number of newborns since record keeping began.
The decline in childbirths is blamed on a sharp fall in the number of marriages and a growing number of unmarried women in recent years.
The number of couples tying the knot in South Korea reached 239,200 in 2019, down 7.2 percent from the previous year.
The figure is the lowest since 1970, when the statistical agency began compiling related data.
The drop came as many young South Koreans are delaying marriage or giving up on marriage altogether amid difficulties finding decent jobs or buying homes.
Some young South Koreans are opting to distance themselves from life's three major milestones -- dating, marriage and having children -- because they cannot find decent jobs amid a prolonged economic slowdown.
Other factors are the high cost of private education for kids and skyrocketing real estate prices, as well as the difficulties women face in finding jobs after spending extended time away from work to raise children. (Yonhap)