South Koreans will be extinct by 2750 if nothing is done to stop the nation’s falling fertility rate, according to a recently released study by The National Assembly Research Service in Seoul.  The study found that the Korean fertility rate declined to a new low of 1.19 children per woman in 2013, well below the rate required to replace the current population of 50 million.  

According to the study projections, Korea’s population will fall to 40 million in 2056 and to 20 million in 2100. By 2200, the population is projected to have decreased to three million and to only one million by 2256, gradually becoming extinct over the next 500 years.  Of course, such predictions assume that current Korean policy and practice remains the same which it likely wouldn’t once these projections started to become apparent.  Before then, South Korea could make changes to its immigration policy, support the family more and increase its birth rates to head off these projections – something many are hoping the country will do.

The mentality which causes such projections is an economically catastrophic one.  Yet, part of the reason they exist are as a result of the short-term economic choices young people and government policy makers are making today.  Many young people consider getting married and raising children a waste of time compared to improving their employment status and earning capacity.  Many couples are also keen to have only one very successful child that they can invest a lot into – perhaps under-estimating the value siblings add to a child’s life.  In any case, once there are no people, will houses and other property in these countries be worth anything?  Who will jobs be generated by, if not investors and entrepreneurs creating them for a population who demand goods and services?  Not to mention the growing financial pressures caused by rising healthcare costs and pension payments for an elderly population as the population slowly dies out.

As an aside in light of my last blog post, it is interesting to note that in 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that total private expenditure on pet supplies had annually increased by more than 14 per cent since 2000 in South Korea, making one wonder if pets are often taking the place of children in the case of South Korea too.

While South Korea might be projected to be the first national group to become extinct, Japan is hot its heels.  According to a 2012 study conducted by Tohoku University, Japan will become extinct in about one thousand years, with the last Japanese child born in 3011. Japan is already taking some measures to reverse the trend. Local authorities are able to apply for central government grants of up to 40 million yen (£237,000) for projects relating to supporting marriage and boosting birth rates, according to Bloomberg.  The support of marriage, and the active encouragement of young people to settle down, is regarded by government policy-makers as a key strategy for boosting the nation’s birth rate.

Such projections seem dire, and almost too extreme to be true.  However, population experts have long warned of them and we must sit up, and take notice if they are to be reversed.  The Korean Institute for Health and Social Affairs argues that a complete change of mentality is needed. We must value all new life and the family structure which protects and nurtures children into contributing adults.  It is hopeful that earlier this month The Economist reported South Korea to be a country “afire with faith” – one only has to recall the incredible reception of Pope Francis there last month.  I have faith in their ability to turn these projections around. South Korea, you have a few hundred years…

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...