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South Korea population drops for first time

Birth and fertility rates fall to record lows as country faces full-scale decline

The number of deaths totaled 305,100 and exceeded the number of births, marking the first population decline since the government began tracking data.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- The number of births in South Korea reached a new low in 2020, dropping 10% to 272,400 compared with the previous year, government statistics revealed on Wednesday.

The country's fertility rate, which measures the average number of children a woman is expected to bear over her life, also sunk to a record low of 0.84.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths totaled 305,100 and exceeded the number of births, marking the first population decline since the government began tracking data.

In 2020, South Korea's birthrate fell 0.08 compared with a year earlier. Women's average age of giving birth was 33.1 -- a rise of 0.1 years from 2019. The number of childbirths declined in all age groups except for women in their 40s.

The decline was especially big for women in their late 20s and early 30s, which could be the result of changes in South Korea's demographics. But it also likely reflects the younger generation's growing uncertainty about the future.

In the 1970s, South Korea's birthrate was above 4.0 but dropped to 1.57 in 1990, reaching the same levels seen in Japan. The birthrate remained at around 1.2 from 2000 to 2015 but plunged to 1.05 in 2017. It dropped below 1.0 in 2018 for the first time since 1970, when the figure was first tracked.

The number of deaths increased 3.4% from the previous year, exceeding births by more than 30,000.

South Korea expects its birthrate to continue dwindling and will likely face an era of full-scale population decline.

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