South Korean birth rate hits new low

August 2, 2017

Elan Zohar /Brentwood School Senior, Korea Times Student Intern Reporter

New government records reveal that South Korea‘s birth rate is currently at an all-time low, which could have looming negative effects on the economy.

The past couple decades has featured a slowly declining number in births, but only an estimated 360,000 South Korean babies will be born this year – an all time low, according to BBC. In fact, if the projection is accurate, 2017 will mark the first year in which less than 400,000 babies were born in South Korea.

The increased cost of living is likely the culprit for the rapid birth decline. Housing prices are skyrocketing, and the cost of education is rising as well. Universities have been raising their tuitions at record rates, prompting a law to be passed that paces the tuition increases. The job market in Korea has been unbearable, even for many college graduates. For families tight on cash, a child seems like another economic burden.

South Korea’s neighbor, Japan, has undergone similar issues regarding birth rate. The island nation has had a death rate greater than its birth rate for several years, and the outcome is already apparent. Most impacted are the job and housing markets, and this smaller population of young people will have to carry a heavier burden when it comes to supporting a growing number of retirees, through both pensions and healthcare systems. South Korea, if its current trend continues, could be the next country to undergo these economic hardships.

The Korean government is aware of the trend, and has made extreme efforts to combat this growing issue. BBC reports that in the last decade, South Korea has spent roughly $70 billion (?78.4 trillion) to lift the birth rate by granting baby bonuses and paying for parental leaves. Despite these efforts, the recent data still indicates that the government‘s push has had no positive effects.

A declining birth rate, however, could have some positive effects. Japan has put more emphasis on the robotics industry, and has become a global hub for artificial intelligence. Robots have even begun to fill some holes in the Japanese job market. There is no doubt that South Korea – home to companies like Samsung and LG – has the capability to create revolutionary machines to shield the economy from a declining population. It is now just a question of ’when‘ rather than ’if.‘

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