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South Korea’s Record Low Fertility Rate: A Look at Marriage and Births in 2021

In February, the government of South Korea reported that the country has broken its own record of the lowest birth rate in the world. The average number of babies per South Korean woman during her reproductive years, known as the total fertility rate, dropped to 0.78 in 2022, down from 0.81 in 2021. This new data comes as South Korea is grappling with a chronic decline in its birth rate, with the lowest-ever number of babies – 249,000 – born last year.

Statistics Korea mainly attributed the decline in marriages to the decline in population among those aged between 25 and 49, and projected that such a decline will result in a steeper fall in the birth rate, which is already the world's lowest. Of the 16,700 international marriages, the couples that comprised a Korean husband and a foreign wife stood at 12,000, up 33.6 percent from a year earlier, while the number of marriages between a Korean wife and a foreign husband increased 13.2 percent year-on-year to 4,700.[0]

In 2022, the average age for grooms getting married for the first time rose to an all-time high of 33.7, an increase of 0.4 from the previous year. Brides also hit a new record of 31.3, a 0.2 increase in the same period.[1] The overall number of newlyweds also slid 0.4 percent year-on-year to 191,700 in 2022, marking a record low since relevant data started being compiled in 1970.[0]

Last year, marriages in South Korea hit an all-time low, portending a further decline in the nation's already low fertility rate.[2] According to Lim Young-il, the head of the Population Census Division at the agency, the declining population and the altered outlook of South Koreans on marriage have both greatly contributed to the low numbers.

The fertility rate in South Korea is now 0.78, much lower than the replacement level of 2.1 that would keep Korea's population stable at 51.5 million. Experts say this rate is needed for a country to maintain a stable population without migration.[3]

Marriage and fertility remain closely interlinked in South Korea, where births outside marriage remain rare.[1] Since 2013, the country has had the lowest fertility rate on the planet, a fact that is now a reality.[3]

0. “Marriage hits record low amid S. Korea's population decline” UCA News, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.ucanews.com/news/marriage-hits-record-low-amid-s-koreas-population-decline/100707

1. “I Do Not: Why fewer and fewer couples are getting married in South Korea” Firstpost, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.firstpost.com/explainers/i-do-not-why-fewer-and-fewer-couples-are-getting-married-in-south-korea-12310532.html

2. “The Number of Marriages in #SouthKorea Crashed to Yet Another Record Low in 2022, Data … – Latest Tweet” LatestLY, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.latestly.com/socially/india/news/the-number-of-marriages-in-southkorea-crashed-to-yet-another-record-low-in-2022-data-latest-tweet-by-ians-india-4953998.html

3. “South Korea has the world's lowest fertility rate, a struggle with lessons for us all” NPR, 19 Mar. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/19/1163341684/south-korea-fertility-rate

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