Jonathan Cheng, Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2014
South Korea’s fertility rate is so low that the country’s population could go the way of the dinosaurs by 2750, according to a new simulation commissioned by the National Assembly in Seoul.
In that dubious respect, South Korea is on track to outpace its neighbor Japan: according to a widely-circulated report two years ago, Japan will go extinct in about one thousand years. That study drew skepticism from some quarters, but added to the growing urgency about Japan’s demographic future.
But Japan at least starts with more people, with a current population of about 127 million, more than twice that of South Korea.
Making things worse, South Korea has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, well below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children. While the statistics vary slightly, the average South Korean woman bears about 1.25 children, compared to Japan’s 1.40 children, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Only Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Singapore have lower rates.
According to the South Korea simulation, conducted by the National Assembly Research Service, the country’s current population of about 50 million people will fall to 20 million by the end of the century, assuming a fertility rate of 1.19 children per women.
Needless to say, caveats abound. The simulation’s conclusions, notably, sidestep a number of key unknowns, like the question of North Korea and the future of the Korean peninsula, or any changes in immigration policy in South Korea.
South Korea’s fertility rate could also rebound. South Korea’s rate has actually been ticking higher in recent years from a low of 1.08 in 2005, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Starting with President Park Chung-hee’s rise in the early 1960s, South Korea began a national family planning campaign, actively encouraging its families to have fewer children.
The policy, which stretched well into the 1980s, may have worked too well: “Even two children per family are too many for our crowded country,” read one South Korean government poster from the 1980s.