South Korea’s fertility rate plunges to seven-year low

AFP-JIJI

South Korea’s fertility rate plunged to a seven-year low in 2016, official statistics showed Wednesday, with more women delaying marriage in the highly competitive, workaholic country.

The average number of babies a South Korean woman is expected to have in her lifetime dropped to 1.17 last year, down 5.4 percent from 2015 and the lowest in the OECD group of advanced countries, Statistics Korea said.

The figures come as Asia’s fourth largest economy faces a worrying demographic shift with young, working-age South Koreans decreasing in numbers and the elderly population burgeoning.

Around 6.5 million out of the country’s 50 million population were 65 years or older in 2015, and in the next 10 years, one out of five South Koreans will be retired, according to a Statistics Korea report last year.

But soaring property prices and narrowing job prospects have caused many young South Korean women to put off marriage and having babies.

The average age of first-time mothers was 31.4 last year, up from 31.2 in 2015, according to the latest official data.

The South Korean government has pumped more than 100 trillion won ($89 billion) since 2006 into hundreds of programs aimed at encouraging people to marry young and have larger families.

President Moon Jae-in has vowed to introduce more policies to accommodate working mothers, including opening more day care centers and providing a monthly allowance of around 100,000 won ($89).

sh/slb/mtp