One of Korea's biggest concerns in recent years has been the decline in population due to lower birth rates. The population count is closely related to the continued growth of a country, including the domestic economy, and plays an important role as an indicator.
The demographic cliff has now become a reality in Korea. As of November 2019, the natural growth rate of the population was -0.4%. It is the first negative growth in November of any given year. The natural growth of the population, which is the number of births minus deaths, is also negative for the first time. The population was 1,619 fewer than the same month of the previous year. This trend is likely to result in a "dead cross" phenomenon in which the annual population declines. This can have a major impact on Korea's economy and society, leading to reduced production and consumption.
It was the smallest since 1981 when statistics started to be enumerated, according to a report released by Statistics Korea on January 30. The number of births is breaking the lowest monthly record for 44 consecutive months since April 2016. The crude birth rate (annual births per 1000 people) is 5.6. This is the first time this number has fallen to five in November.
In contrast to births that marked record lows, the number of deaths was the highest ever. The death toll in November was 25,543, up 1,238 (5.1%) from the same month last year. The same month's crude death rate (annual deaths per 1,000 people) is six. It is the first time that the survey’s crude death rate rose to six people in November.
As a result, the natural increase of the population, which is the crude birth rate minus the crude death rate, is -0.4%. This is the first time it dropped below zero in November. If the scope is broadened to other months, population growth has fallen below 0% in December 2017 (-0.4%) and December 2018 (-0.9%). But December has its reasons. There are a lot of deaths due to cold weather, and childbirth tends to be delayed to early next year, resulting in fewer newborns.
The decline in natural population growth is also steep. As of November, the natural growth of the population was 2,664 in 2017, but it dropped sharply to 1,101 in 2018. Last year, the total population shrank 1,619. Aside from December, the natural growth rate of the population had never been negative. “Population has declined for the first time in November,” said Kim Jin, Director of Population Trends at Statistics Korea. “Starting this year, the annual trend may shift toward decline as well,” she added.
The decrease in childbirth is due to less marriage. The number of marriages reported in November last year was 20,493, down 2,308 (10.1%) from a year ago. It is the lowest number in history since the beginning of enumeration in 1981. The crude marriage rate (annual marriages per 1,000 people) recorded 4.9, below five for the first time in November. The cumulative number of marriages between January and November this year is 214,265. It decreased by 7.2% year-on-year. Young people in the marriageable age cited economic problems such as housing and competitive education culture as the causes of low fertility and opting out of marriage.
Korea has been trying to solve childbirth and marriage problems through welfare policies. Some experts advise that this view must be changed. The government has spent more than 100 trillion won in expanding childcare facilities for 10 years, but questions are raised about its effect. It is pointed out that the problem of low birth rate is more fundamental than the welfare level—it’s the lack of stable jobs for young generations and the resulting avoidance of marriage. The policy of local development should be preceded by combining local urban development and movement of population, because manpower and capital are currently only concentrated in Seoul.
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