South Korea recorded more deaths than births in 2020 for the first time ever, raising fresh alarm in the country which already has the world’s lowest birth rate.
Only 275,800 babies were born last year, down 10% from 2019. Around 307,764 people died.
The figures prompted the interior ministry to call for “fundamental changes” to its policies.
A declining population puts immense strain on a country. Apart from increased pressure on public spending as demand for healthcare systems and pensions rise, a declining population of people of working age also leads to labour shortages that have a direct impact on the economy.
Last month, President Moon Jae-in launched several policies aimed at addressing the plummeting birth rate, including cash incentives for families.
Under the scheme, from 2022 every child born will receive a cash bonus of 2 million won (RM7,500) to help cover prenatal expenses, on top of a monthly payout of 300,000 won (RM1,100) until the baby turns one. The incentive will increase to 500,000 won (RM1,800) every month from 2025.
There are several reasons for the declining birth rate but largely it is because in South Korea, women struggle to achieve a balance between work and life’s other demands.
Hyun-yu Kim is one of them. The oldest of four, she dreamed of having a big family of her own one day. But faced with conditions that are not family-friendly in South Korea, she is seriously reconsidering her plans to have children.
She recently started a new job and is feeling more and more anxious about taking time off for maternity leave. “People tell me that it’s safer to build my career first,” she told the BBC.
Soaring real estate prices are another major issue. Kim points out that rapidly rising property prices make home-ownership impossible for young couples and discourage them from starting families.
“In order to have children, you need to have your own home. But this has become an impossible dream in Korea.”
She is also unconvinced by the incentives being offered by the government.
“It’s expensive to raise a child. The government providing an extra couple hundred thousand won won’t solve our problems.”