More deaths than births registered in the country, adding additional demographic pressure on the world’s 12th largest economy.
South Korea’s population declined for the first time in the country’s history in 2020, with authorities recording more deaths than births, the government said.
As of December 31, South Korea had 51,829,023 people, down 20,838 from the previous year, according to data released Monday by the Interior Ministry.
Annual births have been declining for years and were surpassed by deaths for the first time, from 275,815 to 307,764.
“In regions with poor economic, medical and educational infrastructure, the extinction crisis in these cities is intensifying,” the ministry said.
He called for “fundamental changes” in government policies, especially in social protection and education.
The world’s 12th largest economy has one of its longest life expectancies and one of its lowest birth rates, a combination that presents looming demographic disaster.
According to experts, the causes of the phenomenon are multiple, including expenses related to the education of children and soaring house prices, associated with a notoriously competitive society that makes it difficult to secure well-paid jobs.
Another key factor is the double burden on working mothers to do most of the housework and childcare while maintaining their careers.
South Korea has spent more than 180 trillion won ($ 166 billion) since 2006 to raise birth rates, but the population is expected to drop to 39 million by 2067, when the median age will be 62.
Reactions from South Koreans have been mixed.
“The current situation will continue unless all dual-income households can afford to raise their children without any worries,” one citizen said on Twitter.
But another suggested that a shrinking population could help reduce South Korea’s carbon emissions and narrow its wealth gap.
South Korea ranks 27th in the world in terms of population, and its neighbors, China and Japan, are also aging rapidly.