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Examining South Korea, Singapore Low Birth Rate



South Korea has been rated as the country with the lowest birth rate in world, while Singapore hangs in the third position of the world’s lowest birth and fertility rate. In this piece, KINGSLEY OPURUM dissects its causes and implications.

The number of babies born in South Korea continues to fall as the birth rate reached a new record low in April, this year, according to a monthly population index by Statistics Korea. Some 27,700 babies were born in April, this year, a 9 percent drop from the previous year.

According to reports, the birth rate was one of the lowest compared to the same month in 2016 and 2017. In April 2017, some 34,000 babies were born, down from 35,100 a year earlier. The number of babies born from January to April hit a record low of 117,300 since the government started tracking monthly rates in 1981.

It was reported that the rate declined in big cities, including Seoul, Busan and Daegu, while other cities maintained a similar rate as last year.

The statistics office finds part of the reason for the decline may be the population of women with the highest fertility rate fell by 11 percent compared to last year, South Korean newspaper reported.

The same paper also reported that the statistic also shows the number of deaths at 24,000, up 4 percent over the year before — with the combined number of deaths at 105,800 from January to April.

As part of the effort to increase the birth rate, the South Korean government is offering a 100,000-won ($89.48) monthly “children’s allowance,” which started this month (September) to families with children under six.

Recall that the administration of the former President, Park Geun-hye, suffered a backlash in 2016 when it published a “birth map” highlighting the most fertile areas of the country in bright pink in an attempt to spur others along. Women took exception to being treated like farm animals.

But President Moon Jae-in seems set on a different tack. His government has announced measures to improve child care and increase support for single-parent families. Mr Moon has also pledged to work towards greater gender equality and less punishing hours in the workplace.

Pundits are of the opinion that to stabilize its current population, South Korea, a country with 51 million people, would need to reverse the trend and double the current birth rate. With fewer young people entering the workforce, the social costs of supporting the elderly could quickly overwhelm the national economy.

Also, reports have it that over the last decade, South Korea poured $70 billion into incentivizing childbirth, offering up some of the world’s most generous childcare subsidies, with extra perks for working parents and families with multiple kids.

Some public affairs commentators have argued that accepting refugees can be the solution to solve the birth rate problem in South Korea, stating that the fertility rate of Nigerian immigrants in France is 6.7, and accepting Nigerian immigrants in the country, may proffer panacea for South Korea’s disturbing problem.

Also, they insisted that acceptance of refugees is not only a solution to the fertility problem, but it will also contribute to South Korea’s international stature.  Although, Moon-led government is mulling over creating new policies geared towards increasing the fertility rate.

In the same vein, Singapore, which has been rated as the world’s third lowest birth and fertility rate, and with a population of 5.8 million people has also been working round the clock to address the anomaly. Last year (2017), the number of babies born fell to a seven-year low, while the number of deaths was the highest in at least two decades.

A total of 39,615 births were registered, four per cent fewer than the 41,251 in 2016. Last year’s number was also the lowest since 2010, when 37,967 babies were born.

On the other hand, the number of deaths rose by 4 per cent from 20,017 in 2016 to 20,905 last year, the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths 2017 showed. The report was released by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore on July, this year.

The number of deaths has been on an upward trajectory since at least 1998, as the number of people aged 65 and older has more than doubled in that time frame, academics say. There were 15,657 deaths in 1998, the furthest back that the ICA report goes.

Although in Singapore, the most common causes of death were cancer and heart and hypertensive diseases, which accounted for slightly over half of all deaths last year. More than 80 per cent of those who died were aged 60 and over.

Therefore, analysts believe that the fewer births last year were probably due to practical reasons and demographic changes and not zodiac influences.

They also believe that, with fewer births and more deaths, this creates challenges for Singapore’s society.

It has been reported that fewer babies born will result in a smaller work force, which affects the attractiveness of Singapore as a place to invest in. Coupled with the ageing population, there are just fewer people of working age to support a growing pool of elderly, which may increase the strain on families, among other woes.

A total of 2,118 babies born last year (2017) were the fourth or more child in their families – the largest such number in the past five years. In 2013, the figure stood at 1,853.

Meanwhile, it is believed that low birth rate in Singapore could be attributed to the issue of late marriage, the choice by the citizens to remain single and high cost of living. It is also believed that low birth rate could be caused by the fact that both husband and wife are working in a bid to maintain high cost of living in the country. As a result, they may decide not to have babies, which may perhaps pose encumbrance to their career.    

Some analysts have posited that low birth rates in South Korea and Singapore are taking their tolls economically because of an aging and declining population, GDP reduction, slow economic growth, and increasing costs of national pensions.

They believe that if the problem of low birth rate persists, South Korea and Singapore’s economies may weaken. According to them, in spite of their issues with reproduction, these two countries have been the least accepting of refugees from different continents in Asia.

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