South Korea foreshadows a grey, slow-growth future

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In 1960, South Korea had a total fertility rate of more than six children per woman, high enough to cause a population explosion. But as the country developed, this number dropped decade by decade: A country needs a fertility rate of about 2.1 - a little more than one child per parent - to maintain long-term population stability. South Korea's fertility is now about half that number. And it's still falling. The country's statistics office reported that last year, the fertility rate fell to a record low of 0.98 - much lower even than in countries such as Japan, whose rate is above 1.4.

This means that South Korea is headed for a demographic crash. Although the country's population has been rising due to higher birth rates in earlier generations - an effect known as population momentum - this is set to reverse as early as next year. During the next half-century, unless something changes, the population of 51 million could fall by a third.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2019, with the headline South Korea foreshadows a grey, slow-growth future. Subscribe