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South Korea Does Not Have Enough Children to Fill Its Schools

South Korea has so few children that many of its schools have become ghost towns, reflecting a regional trend

The nation’s fertility rates have been in decline for the past 40 years. In the 1960s, Korean women had, on average, six children. This year the country reported just 0.84 births per woman. At this rate, the nation can not replace its aging population.

Between 1982 and 2016, 3,725 school were closed because there were not enough students to keep them open. While real estate developers acquired some, over a thousand schools were left to crumble to the ground, per Business Insider. Rural areas have been the hardest hit by school closures.

South Korea has the lowest fertility in the world, reported Reuters in February. The government expanded childcare subsidies and maternity leave support in an an unsuccessful bid to change this decline.

Expecting Korean parents can receive a monthly stipend the equivalent of $275 USD for infants under 12 months old staring in 2022. The amount is expected to almost double by 2025. The money is in addition to the monthly allowance provided for each child under 7 years old. The government will offer a ‘cash bonus’ to cover prenatal expense in 2022 and will increase the ‘congratulatory allowance’ for each pregnant woman from 600,000-won ($525 USD) to 1 million-won ($875 USD), according to The Korean Herald.

In addition to shrinking fertility rates, marriage rates are in decline. This behavioral change is attributed to the Sampo Generation.

“The word ‘sampo’ means to give up three things: relationships, marriage and children,” explains the BBC. “South Korean women aren’t simply choosing to have fewer children – some are opting to forego romantic relationships entirely. An increasing number are choosing never to marry at all, turning their backs on legal partnerships – and even casual relationships – in favour of having independent lives and careers.”

Countries across East Asia are experiencing population decline. Japan’s population is projected to decline by 16.3%  by 2050 which would mean losing nearly 21 million people over 30 years. The country has a birth rate of roughly 1.42. Japan and South Korea are Asia’s second and fourth-largest economies, respectively.

Asia Times noted last summer that China’s population is expected to decline by 48% by the end of the century. This is largely attributed to the aftershock’s of the nation’s one-child policy enforced by the Chinese Communist Party. Not only did the policy traumatize Chinese mothers, cultural preference for male babies left the population so unbalanced that there are 30 million more men than women in China today.

Globally, people are having fewer children which will have economic consequences in the decades to come.

On July 12, the U.S Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to Reuters that “America’s aging demographics were going to hit the country ‘like a ton of bricks.’” She said it was imperative to increase federal aid so women can stay in the workforce.

The current U.S. fertility rate is approximately 1.73. The rate has been in steady decline for decades and is well below the 2.1 fertility rate needed to sustain a national population.

As of 2021, the death rate in South Korea officially surpassed the national birth rate, confirming the country’s rapid decline.

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