The World’s Lowest Fertility Rate Is Expected to Drop Further

December 10, 2021

South Korea’s fertility rate, already the lowest in the developed world, is expected to get even worse, presenting a massive economic headwind to the nation.

The fertility rate, 0.84 as of last year, is projected to fall to 0.70 in 2024 before beginning a gradual rebound as couples married after the pandemic begin having children, according to the nation’s finance ministry and statistics office.

South Korea saw the number of deaths surpass the number of births for the first time last year, an event that the government has labeled the “death cross.”

The government expects the fertility rate to edge back up to 1.0 by 2031, when a large cohort of people born during a baby boom in the 1990s enter their 30’s and begin to start families. Even with the rebound, the nation will be far below the so-called “replacement rate” of 2 children per woman, which is needed to prevent population decline.

When factoring for migrations, South Korea’s total population started to decline this year, eight years earlier than government forecasts made in 2019 had projected. According to recent government statements, the country’s current population of 52 million will decline gradually until 2030, then decline at a faster pace, falling to 38 million by 2070. This is the same size the country was in 1979.

A recent paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics warned that unless South Korea can increase its fertility rate, the country will be unable to “escape large and negative economic effects from what will be a rapidly declining total and working-age population.”

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