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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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, September 4, 2018

South Korea's Fertility May Drop Below 1 Child Per Woman

Thanks to both Todd Gardner and Stuart Gietel-Basten for almost simultaneously pointing me to a story in yesterday's Guardian suggesting that the fertility rate in South Korea may soon drop to less than one child per woman. This is low-low fertility of nearly unheard of proportions even in what has become a very low fertility region of the world (and check out the brand new 2018 PRB World Population Data Sheet to make those comparisons for yourself!):
The average number of babies born per woman of reproductive age is due to be as low as 0.96 this year, falling below one for the first time in history, according to a study commissioned by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper [that article is in Korean, btw].
Such a low fertility rate is normally only seen during wartime, said Lee Chul-hee, an economics professor at Seoul National University and one of the authors of the study.
“There’s definitely going to be a psychological shock among the Korean people,” he said. “It will likely influence what is considered to be an ideal number of children, and could lead to the rate dropping even further.”
At the end of the Korean War, UN demographers estimate that the TFR in South Korea was above 6 children per woman, but a rapid drop in fertility after that (not unlike the one in Taiwan) brought fertility down to below replacement in the mid-1980s and it has stayed below replacement since then. This has, of course, generated the almost ideal demographic dividend that has helped the country leap into prosperity in a relatively short period of time. 

As is also true in Southern Europe, the birth rate is so low in South Korea at least in part because of the strings that are still tied around the lives of women:
The status of women in South Korea, a deeply patriarchal society, is a major driver of the trend, along with worsening job prospects for young people and rising property prices. Women are getting married and having children later in life, if at all, for fear of being denied promotions and facing discrimination at work.
The average age for South Korean women marrying for the first time is 30.2, according to figures from the ministry of gender equality and family, up from 24.8 in 1990. On average, women have their first child at 31.6.
There are going to have to be some decisive cultural changes--not just simple government policies--if the birth rate is going to get back up closer to replacement level. It can happen, of course, but it won't be easy.

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