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South Korea's population falls for the first time in history

 South Korea's population has fallen for the first time in the country's history as it struggles with an aging population and a chronically low birth rate.

The latest census figures, released over the weekend, show the population was 51,829,023 at the end of December, up from 20,838 the year before.

South Korea's population had increased every year for the past decade, although the growth rate had decreased from 1.49% in 2010 to 0.05% in 2019, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Data reported by Yonhap showed that the country recorded 275,815 births in 2020, compared to 307,764 deaths.

South Korea's population falls for the first time in history

The trend, which has also led to a population decline in neighboring Japan, increases pressure on the government to address long-term demographic challenges posed by a rapidly aging society and one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. world.

"Amid the rapid decline in the birth rate, the government must undertake fundamental changes in its relevant policies," the Interior Ministry said.

As its overall population shrinks, South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, is also experiencing an increase in the number of older people, with those aged 60 and over accounting for 24% of the total.

Depopulation is not limited to aging rural regions; The population of the country's capital, Seoul, fell by just over 60,000 last year, Yonhap said.

The President's administration, Moon Jae-in, recently announced initiatives to encourage couples to have larger families, including a one-time payment of 1 million won [£ 675] for pregnant women and monthly cash allowances for children under 12 months.

But critics say the measures do little to address the much bigger financial hurdles to having more children, such as high costs for education and housing.

Pressure on family finances aside, some experts have pointed to growing opposition among South Korean women to conform to social norms by raising children and caring for older in-laws while their husbands work.

In 2018, just over 22% of South Korean women who were single or never married said they thought getting married was a necessary part of life, compared to nearly 47% a decade earlier.

That change is reflected in a drop in the number of marriages, from 434,900 in 1996 to 257,600 last year.

South Korea's birth rate, or the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime, fell to a record low of 0.92 in 2019, the lowest among all members of the Organization for Cooperation and Development. Economic Development.

That's well below the rate of 2.1 it needs to keep its population stable, and a sharp drop from 50 years ago, when the birth rate was 4.53.

If current trends persist, the government predicts that South Korea's population will drop to 39 million by 2067, when more than 46% of the population will be over 64 years old.

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