Country that has stopped having babies
IT'S not a scene out of dystopian film Children of Men where the global population curiously loses the ability to procreate. Nor is it a scene from The Handmaid's Tale where unlucky women are enslaved for their rare fertility.
It's just a country increasingly disinterested in having babies.
Policy makers in South Korea are worried about future economic and social problems as the country's birth rate is expected to fall to an all time low this year.
According to a study commissioned by a South Korean newspaper, the country's birthrate is tipped to fall as low as 0.96 this year. It will be the first time ever that there has been a zero before the decimal point.
The rate needed to keep a population stable is 2.1 per woman, to replace her and her partner.
In the decades after the Korean War, the South propelled itself from a devastated ruin to the world's 11th-largest economy and a member of the OECD club of advanced nations.
But it faces looming demographic challenges with a rapidly ageing population. The country has one of the world's lowest birthrates as people marry and have children later, amid worries over costs and as women look to focus on their careers. The trend has been exacerbated by worsening job prospects for young people and rising property prices.
Government officials are worried that welfare schemes such as healthcare and pensions will face shortfalls as society ages and there are fewer people to pay to support them. But efforts to reverse the trend have had little effect. Between 2006 and 2018, the government rolled out initiatives like free child care and cash payments to pregnant women but such policies have failed to lift the birth rate.
"This is approaching disaster levels," Lee Bong-joo of Seoul National University told The Guardian this week.
"Focusing only on childcare won't be effective in the future; increasing gender equality in the home and the workplace is the best solution, but that will take time."
In the latest annual census, the working-age population, defined as those aged 15 to 64, fell by 116,000 in 2017 to 36.2 million, Statistics Korea said. It was the first time the figure had fallen.
National figures released last month showed South Korean births plummeting 12 per cent in 2017 to 357,771, an all-time low.
The fertility rate - the number of children a woman can be expected to have in a lifetime - also dropped to a record low of 1.05.
Other countries in the region, notably Japan, have experienced depressed fertility rates in recent years but South Korea now has the lowest.
Comparatively, Australia's fertility rate continues to hover just below the replacement rate. Except for a brief time when it rate reached 2.00 in 2009, it has remained around 1.8 since 2006.