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Low Birthrate Threatens South Korea's Survival


Elementary school students wave South Korean national flags during a ceremony to celebrate the March First Independence Movement Day.

Elementary school students wave South Korean national flags during a ceremony to celebrate the March First Independence Movement Day.

South Korea’s National Assembly Research Service says no one will be living in the country by 2750 if women there do not start having more children.

Last year, the birthrate was 1.19 children for every woman. The Research Service report says the country’s population will decrease from 50 million to 10 million by 2136 if the rate does not increase. The report says the population will continue to drop to three million by 2200, and to only one million by 2256. The research shows the country will be empty by 2750 if there is no change.

The report predicts the southern port city of Busan would be the first city to empty. It predicts 2413 as the year the last person will be born in the city. It says the capital Seoul will have its final birth in 2505.

David Coleman is a population expert, or demographer, at Oxford University. The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo says that Mr. Coleman warned of South Korea’s low birthrate back in 2006. He reportedly said it was so low that it could become the first country to lose its entire population.

According to the CIA Factbook, only one country and three major territories have a lower birthrate than South Korea. They are: Singapore, Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Many Asian and European countries face dropping birthrates like South Korea. Japan’s birthrate is recorded at 1.4 per woman while Germany is a little higher at 1.43. The fall in birthrate is a more serious problem for Asian countries like South Korea and Japan where fewer immigrants arrive and fill in for the lost native population.

South Korea faces other problems.

In July, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on a study by the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade. The study predicted the country’s population competitiveness among the 29 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It said it would go from 17th place in 2010 to 21st place in 2030.

The main reason for the drop is the fast growth of the country’s aging population. Fewer children means the country must put in place a higher tax rate to support government payments to older people. This weakens the country’s economy.

The Wall Street Journal notes that South Korea began urging women to have fewer children in the early 1960s during the presidency of Park Chun-Hee. His oldest child -- Park Geun-hye -- is now the president.

She has no children.

Christopher Cruise wrote this story for Learning English based on reports from Chosun Ilbo, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Telegraph newspapers. He also narrated the story. Hai Do and Caty Weaver edited the story.

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Words in the News

population - n., all the people in a place, city or country

born - v., to come to life; to come into existence

lose - v., to have no longer; to not find; to fail to keep; to be defeated

immigrant - n., a person who arrives in a country to live there

government - n., a system of governing; the organization of people that rules a country, city or area

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