The Lowest Fertility Rate in the World Just Got Lower


South Korea has broken its own record, but in this case, that’s not a good thing. The Asian nation has again notched the world’s lowest fertility rate and that rank has hit a new low. Data from 2021 released Wednesday found Korean women bear an average 0.81 children over their lifetime, down from 0.84 the year prior, reports Bloomberg. The BBC reports the comparable rate in “the world’s most advanced economies” is 1.6 children, and that a 2.1 rate is required to keep the population level flat (excluding migration). It’s the sixth decrease in a row for South Korea, which first fell below the 1.0 mark in 2018 and logged more deaths than births in 2020.

There were 260,600 births in 2021, a figure that represents roughly 0.5% of the population. As for what kept more women from having children last year, COVID and a higher cost of living (the BBC describes housing costs there as “astronomical”) were given as factors. In the BBC’s view, “A crisis is brewing,” with the current trend being unsustainable. “If South Korea’s population continues to shrink, there won’t be enough people to grow its economy, look after its aging population, and conscript into its army.” Nikkei Asia has figures to back up those fears.

It reports the projections show the population could plummet from 51.75 million in 2021 to 37.66 million in 2070. The government has identified 108 cities and districts that are at risk of vanishing, and things are no better in Seoul, where the fertility rate is just 0.63. Yonhap’s take: “Experts voiced concerns the country may face an ‘age quake’ starting in 2030-40, an earthquake-like demographic shock from a fall in population and rapid aging, if it does not tackle the issue in a timely manner.” Fortune notes the government already has incentives in place, among them a $1,185 payment for every child born and $224 a month until the child turns one. (Read more population growth stories.)