South Korean Births Drop to 35 Year Low, Underpopulation a Problem

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 26, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Korean Births Drop to 35 Year Low, Underpopulation a Problem Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 26, 2004

Seoul, South Korea ( — Another Asian country is facing the problem of underpopulation — a trend that is besetting Japan, countries in Europe, and Canada. The latest official figures from the Korean government show that the number of births has dropped to a 35 year low.

According to Korea’s National Statistical Office, less than half a million babies were born last year — the lowest figure since the office began tabulating population data in 1970.

There were only 10.2 births per 1,000 people last year, whereas 10 years ago there were 16.4 births per 1,000 people.

The birth rate, or the number of babies a woman gives birth to during her lifetime, fell to 1.19 last year. Ten years ago, the figure was 1.67.

The problem will begin to plague the Asian country over the years as the workforce may not be able to support Korea’s aging population.

A number of East and Southeast Asian countries were able to maintain economic growth in a face of declining fertility, by turning to immigrant labor. Now, that may not be enough.

"Throughout much of Asia, labor shortages are so acute that the financial crisis of 1997 saw no decline in demands for migrant workers," explains Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute.

"Had migrant workers not been available, that is to say, if population control programs had succeeded in flatlining birth rates everywhere, development in many countries would have stalled because of labor shortages," Mosher added.

Mosher says the sever underpopulation in many countries should prompt the United Nations to cut back on programs that promote abortion and birth control. But abortion advocates are unwilling to do that.

South Korea’s birth rate is among the lowest in the world. The birth rate of the United States was 2.01, 1.88 for France, 1.65 for Sweden, 1.29 for Japan, and 1.25 for Spain, for example.

One reason for the decline in the birth rate is the tendency for Korean couples to have sex-selection abortions. As in other Asian countries, especially China, Koreans have a preference for boys.

Figures from the Korean National Statistical Office show 108.7 male babies were born last year per 100 female babies. That’s an improvement over the 115.3 to 100 ratio from 10 years ago — due in part to the government banning hospitals from identifying an unborn child’s sex in 1994.