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January 05, 2021

South Korea saw more deaths than births in 2020

South Korea saw more deaths than births in 2020

For the first time ever, South Korea, the country with the lowest birth rate in the world, has recorded more deaths than births.

The country saw only 275,800 babies born in 2020, a fall of 10% from 2019.

A declining birth rate and resulting aging population put pressure on a country’s public spending as demand for health care and pensions rises. A declining youth population leads to labor shortages as employers struggle to fill vacancies.

Concerned about unachievable housing prices and rising unemployment, a growing number of young South Koreans are choosing to remain single. If they do marry, they are doing so later in life and usually having fewer, if any, children. 

President Moon Jae-in recently launched several policies to address the low birth rate, including paying cash incentives to families. From 2022, every new child born will receive 2 million won (£1,350) to help cover prenatal expenses. There will also be a monthly payment of 300,000 won (£200) until the baby is 12 months old. From 2025, the incentive will increase to 500,000 won (£340) per month.

There are also concerns that the Covid-19 pandemic will have an effect on birth rates around the world. Last week the Bank of Korea said the pandemic would exert “a negative impact on the nation’s marriage and birthrate, leading to an acceleration of aging in the population.”

Joshua Wilde, Wei Chen, and Sophie Lohmann have written about Covid-19’s potential effect on fertility for IZA World of Labor. They say that “[w]hile some have speculated that unexpected pregnancies will rise as couples spend time in lockdown, comparisons to historical mortality crises suggest the most likely outcome is a reduction in fertility as couples postpone childbearing due to the economic and social disruptions of the pandemic. But, as of yet, the exact magnitude and direction of the change in fertility is still unknown.”

Wilde, Chen, and Lohmann have used Google Trends data to try to predict the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on future births in the US. Their analysis “suggests that between November 2020 and February 2021, monthly US births will drop sharply, by approximately 15%.” 

Read more from IZA World of Labor on demography, family, and gender and on the global Covid-19 pandemic.