This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Has South Korea Forgotten the Source of its Economic Miracle?

An article in today's NYTimes by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Korean writer (Choe Sang-Hun) extols the virtue of a small rural county in South Korea where the fertility rate has risen above replacement level.
For three consecutive years, Haenam, a farming county at the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula, has had the highest fertility rate in South Korea, a rare bright spot in a country some doomsayers predicted would become “extinct” in several centuries if it maintained the same birthrate, one of the world’s lowest at 1.2 children per woman. 
Haenam is the only South Korean county whose birthrate of 2.4 children per woman is above the “replacement level” of 2.1 children, a rate that allows a society to maintain its current population without migration.
OK, let's get real here. In the first place, history teaches us that we should never believe any population projection that takes us out "several centuries." The entire human race might be extinct in a few centuries, who knows??

But the main point is that nowhere in the story does the reporter acknowledge that the South Korean government knew what it what doing in pushing the birth rate down. That provided the demographic dividend that allowed the country to take off economically. The country might now be well served by replacement level fertility (the UN Population Division estimates that the current TFR is 1.3 children per woman), but a rise to 2.4 in the entire country would probably be disastrous.

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