May 24, 2005
South Korea Birth Rate Hits New Low Of 1.15

South Korea's birth rate breaks a new low record.

The birth rate is estimated to have plunged to its lowest point ever at 1.15. The lowest total fertility rate recorded so far was the 1.17 recorded in 2002.

In a population where everyone has only one child no one would have a cousin or aunts or uncles. Think about it. Your parent would have no brothers or sisters and hence you couldn't have aunts or uncles, let alone cousins.

Once rejuvenation therapies come to market then in a society where everyone has only one child the population would at most double. Picture 128 people forming 64 couples to make 64 offspring. Then those 64 have 32 children. Then those 32 have 16 children who have 8 who have 4 who have 2. Those last two mate with each other and have a single last child.

But once rejuvenation is commonplace and people can stay young for hundreds or even thousands of years most people would want to have more children. Instead of a woman having a 20 year window during which she could reproduce she could work for 50 or 100 or 200 years, amass great wealth, and then easily afford to have a dozen children over a fwe of decades. So once rejuvenation therapies become available only government regulation could prevent long term population growth.

A 2004 article reports that Korea has the lowest total fertility rate in the world.

Last year, the total fertility rate (TFR) among Korean women was the lowest in the world, at 1.19, a figure much lower than the average 1.6 to 1.7 for OECD member countries and significantly lower than the 2.1 needed to maintain the current population level in this country. The TFR is the average number of babies born to women during their reproductive years between ages 15 and 49. The number of births, which once reached as many as one million in 1970 alone, fell to 493,500 last year. From 2017, 13 years from now, the country’s total population will start to decrease.

Korea's businesses are shaping incentives to encourage Korean women to make more babies.

Employers are coming up with a plethora of ideas to help boost Korea’s worryingly low birthrate, with incentives ranging from the sensible to the bizarre. Maternity leave events and maternity lounges, birth bonuses and child rearing support are all on the list, as are “sterility sabbaticals.”

South Korea will be losing 0.2 percent population per year by 2030.

The population growth is forecast to record a negative growth rate of 0.2 percent in 2030 as the number of newly born babies would continue to decline in the future.


An average Korean worker would have to pay about 54.7 percent of his or her income in taxes, pension contributions, and other social welfare-related payments to support the aged population in 2030, up from 39.3 percent in 2005.

The high taxes to pay for an increasing elderly population will serve as an additional disincentive for having children.

In the longer run Darwinian natural selection will have its way. As compared to the women who are having fewer children the South Korean women who are having larger families carry, on average, more genotypes that cause them to have more children. So genotypes that encourage having more offspring are being selected for in South Korea (and in the rest of the industrialized world for that matter). This process of natural selection takes generations to play out. But the anti-natal effects of industrialised society will eventually be overcome by increased frequency of genes that lead to a much stronger desire to have children. Selective pressures can not be escaped from without genetic engineering and government intervention.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 May 24 09:32 AM  Trends Demographic

Braddock said at May 24, 2005 11:30 AM:

Young women should donate eggs early for IVF. These young healthy embryos would then be frozen for later use when the woman is ready for children. Other means of delaying pregnancy run the risk of chromosomal anomalies or other complications of middle age pregnancy. The best age for a woman to have a child is near age 18 or 20, from a physical standpoint.

Joseph said at May 24, 2005 1:39 PM:

I have heard of numerouse attempts to quantify economics, culture, population density and government influence on a society with birth rate statistics. Has there ever been any success? In the Korean communities in variouse areas of the US the birthrate, by my impression, seems to be double the one quoted when considering the cross-culture marriages. There are childless coupless who normally desire children but most who have children seem to have 2-3 as a baseline. I'm not a statistician so I can't even begin to make even a wild assumption on what could be the determining factor. It would be interesting though if some study could delve into this. (the rate may actually be higher since there seems to be a higher rate of misscarriages among the Asian American couples for whatever reason). This is only personal impressions but over the numerouse years I've been in Korea I have noticed a prevalence of childless or only single child couples.

Kurt said at May 24, 2005 2:16 PM:

Low birthrates are an inevitable consequence of industrialization, rising standard of living, and more personal options in life. Also, Asia is a very urban environment. Think of a continental version of NYC and you get the idea. The exceptionalism of the U.S. lies exclusively in the fact that we have suburbs and exurbs. Steve Sailor's "affordable housing postulate" is spot on. As the rest of the world develops, it will follow the same demographic pattern as Europe and East Asia. Birthrates are declining even in the middle east.

I think the main social effect of post-mortality will be to reduce the birthrate even further. The "young adult" bohemian life style choice will become much more prevailent in a post-mortal society.

James Bowery said at May 24, 2005 6:39 PM:

This is particularly sad given the fact that South Korea has the highest average IQ of any nation.

Randall Parker said at May 24, 2005 7:02 PM:


The genotypes for higher IQ are definitely being selected against. This is very unfortunate.

Chui Tey said at May 24, 2005 7:42 PM:

I believe legislative action to require young couples to spend a couple of hours a week holding young babies would be sufficient.

Babies emit pheromones which make men and women alike 'clucky'. How many times have you heard of a group of friends all falling pregnant and blaming it on the water they drink?

James Bowery said at May 24, 2005 11:16 PM:

I think the key is what Sailer has christened "Affordable Family Formation".

In 1992, when I thought there might yet be some hope for the boomers, I was pushing on legislation that might have salvaged that generation's fertility as well as their Social Security (not to mention the economy of the US). This would necessarily have been somewhat radical but no more radical really than the conversion to "Fairtax" and similar proposals that are receiving a serious hearing. The most likely scenario for this legislation to be enacted is in a country suffering from demographic collapse such as the former Soviet Union where African death rates have combined with European birth rates to produce the demographic equivalent of nuclear holocaust.

The gist of that legislative proposal is summarized in the following excerpts:

The government should tax net assets, in excess of levels typically protected under personal bankruptcy, at a rate equal to the rate of interest on the national debt, thereby eliminating other forms of taxation. Creator-owned intellectual property should be exempt.

The levels typically protected by personal bankruptcy can be approximated by the median price of housing an individual added to the median capitalization of a job in the economy. Together, these exemptions add up to between $50,000 and $100,000. Additional but smaller exemptions may be added to represent the lower levels of bankruptcy protection typically extended to children within families.

The NAT is a self-adjusting system that seeks an equilibrium between government debt levels, current tax rates and private wealth distribution, without attempting to achieve an outright balanced budget or direct intervention in the economy.

Under current (1992) asset distribution and government debt the NAT would generate between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion in
revenue, thus totally displacing other forms of taxation.
only assets whose existence is legally recorded in titles, insurance documents, etc., or that are currently reported for capital gains
and losses would be individually assessed. Since most households own few major assets changing little from year to year, the NAT would greatly simplify tax computation.


With the exception of basic functions of government and the paydown of debt, the government budget should be dispersed to citizens as cash, rather than being spent in government programs or even limited in the form of vouchers. This is "market democracy" in which the citizens and their markets, rather than central planning and politics, influence the selection of goods and services to be capitalized and provided.

Rob McMillin said at May 25, 2005 8:41 AM:

Mr. Bowery -- and in confiscation-land where you plan on living, how well are those five-year plans working out?

Lei said at May 25, 2005 9:01 AM:

Singapore is also concerned about its declining birthrate and has offered several cash incentives to families willing to have three or more children. Most of my Singaporean friends are buying it. They'd rather have their freedom.

Personally, I'm not half as worried about money as I am about not having a supportive community within which to raise my child(ren). Most families now are on their own with no grandparents or other relatives to pitch in. Raising young children is exhausting and labor intensive and raising older ones requires more resources than just money.

Ocuine said at May 25, 2005 1:58 PM:

Procreation and child raising are supreme hassles, and expensive too. Quite often only the fear of dying alone and unnoticed will drive people to pass a bit of themselves down through time. It is quite nice to have uncles, aunts, and cousins. Nieces and nephews are fine. Sadly my own children are being raised mostly without input from myself. Perhaps I will die alone in spite of them.

Mr. Econotarian said at May 26, 2005 11:02 AM:

Given the number of poor people in Asia who would love to work in a reasonable economy, perhaps South Korea should look at allowing more immigration...

Robert Hume said at May 27, 2005 2:45 PM:

I'm not so sure that if people can live indefinitely that they will want to have more children. Their parents and any children will continue to live also, so they need not feel that they will be forgotten; and if they get along with their family they will not be lonely.

Also, along the lines of Sailer's Affordable Family Formation, when populations decline the existing stock of housing will constitute an oversupply. The extra housing can be torn down, and the best refurbished. Much cheaper than endlessly building new housing. Housing is an important element of affordable family formation. So as population declines, that will be a countervailing force.

Robert Hume said at May 27, 2005 2:47 PM:

Let's get realistic about this population "holocaust". 8000 years ago there were only about 4 million people. Today there are 1000 times as many people, 4 billion. We have a long way to go. And it's not clear to me that the world would not be a much more pleasant place for humans and animals if there were only 4 million ... served by robots.

aluxeterna said at May 27, 2005 3:46 PM:

There's a very simple reason why there is such a low birthrate in South Korea: Korean women are tired of being treated like shit. NPR covered this story months ago--thanks to the industrialization and modernization of their economy, Korean women now have opportunities to attend colleges, build careers, and make decisions about their own lives. Unfortunately, most of the male population in that country still subscribes to the antiquated, misogynist views of a woman's place, which for so long dominated South Korean culture. So, in response to their continued poor treatment, young women of S. Korea are simply refusing to have children. Some are choosing absolute celibacy; others are leaving the country, seeking foreign men who have less ancient understandings of gender.

I was in Korea back in December with my boss and his wife. Having lived in the United States for the last 17 years, they did not even recognize their old country, in regard to the gender roles exhibited there. They (or at least my boss, as his wife isn't allowed to disagree with him) were emphatically NOT pleased with the changes.

My girlfriend and I thought the whole thing totally fascinating, for here was an example of an antiquated ideology which is very literally 'dying out.' Imagine what this could do to other fundamentalist cultures!

James Bowery said at May 30, 2005 10:03 PM:

If the population vaccuums created by low birth rates weren't being filled by immigration from high fertility cultures, Hume's points might be well taken. As things stand, they miss the reality of the situation.

Randall Parker said at May 31, 2005 5:37 AM:

James Bowery,

We could stop the immigration given sufficient political will. Public anger on immigration is building. I expect the immigration to be greatly reduced.

High fertility cultures today tend to be low IQ cultures. The tragedy here is that South Korea has the highest national IQ (given that Hong Kong isn't really a nation) and lowest fertility.

T. J. Madison said at June 1, 2005 3:10 PM:

>>The tragedy here is that South Korea has the highest national IQ (given that Hong Kong isn't really a nation) and lowest fertility.

Well, I guess we'd better get to work on the smart pills, eh?

Brendan said at June 18, 2005 10:16 AM:

One thing they might try doing is ADOPTING THEIR OWN CHILDREN. Westerners it seems will adopt anybody, but Koreans will not unless they are blood relations.

I mean, seriously... it's ridiculous. They send about 1% of their newborns to Western countries every year. Sure, it's a drop in the bucket, but what amazes me is that they still do it, considering their birth rate.

Marguerite said at July 26, 2005 12:53 PM:

Looks like this posting is finished, but I found it when googling a correlation between high IQ and low birthrate.

I am 44, on the very end of the baby boomer curve. I decided not to have children at age 9. American consumer culture seemed so dysfunctional to me I couldn't bring myself to subject other innocent human beings to it. When family togetherness amounts to watching your parents watch television, and the definition of success is the brand of car you drive, hopelessness about the deeper meaning of human experience and potential can snuff the procreative urge out of anybody. Besides, the childless choice was relatively easy to make technologically and culturally. Personally, I've struggled with it the last few years. But in my culture there is plenty of evidence (obesity, mental illness, absorption into corporate electronic images) to bolster one's decision to forgo having children.

I can't speak for the Korean women and how they've come to their decisions. But it does seem that women's liberation has come along with consumer culture. It almost appears that we are replacing human relationships with products -- especially electronic image products such as television and video games. As one poster already observed, the absence of community is going to put a huge damper on the attractiveness and practicality of childbearing. The high birth rate nations not only have lower IQ, but lower levels of consumption and more community.

In the US, high achieving women are, on average, more likely to be childfree. You want smart women to have babies? Show them the money. Do not show them a life where being married is tantamount to holding down a second job, only to be left for a younger childless woman when they run out of steam at middle age.

S.M. Stirling said at November 20, 2005 3:13 PM:

It's becoming increasingly obvious that while humans have an instinct to have sex, and an instinct to care for children, they have no instinct to _have_ children in the first place.

The evolutionary reasons for this are obvious; if you have sex, in a pre-modern context you have babies.

This no longer applies. Evolution cannot correct it because if there's no gene-linked desire to have children in the first place, selection cannot increase it.

In other words, it's perfectly possible for humanity to self-destruct voluntarily.

Angela said at January 31, 2006 4:42 AM:

If this keeps continuing, Korea sure is going to have serious problem with manpower. u_U"

William Allen said at February 6, 2006 10:00 PM:

In all developed economies, a pay-as-you state sponsored welfare systems has been put in place. This lavish transfer of wealth from the productive young to the unproductive old people has forced down the fertility rates. Young people across Asian, North America and Europe pay obscenely high payroll taxes compared to what their parents paid. The original US social security tax was 2% and it is now over 15%. Then add the federal and state income taxes, property taxes and Medicare taxes and many young people pay nearly half their income in taxes. Most of this is directly transfered to people between the ages of 65 to 85 years. Young people cannot afford to have children and so they do not. This demonstates again how all Ponzi schemes ultimately collapse on themselves.

taite said at October 25, 2006 9:11 PM:

Re" the absence of community is going to put a huge damper on the attractiveness and practicality of childbearing. The high birth rate nations not only have lower IQ, but lower levels of consumption and more community."

This seems to me to be a highly accurate comment. Studies throughout the world show a very strong correlation between birth rate and strength of community. There is no doubt that as education, media and commerce become so linked by the Internet and small-scale rural communities become less and less viable economically, there is inevitably declining birth rates because people have less incentive to relate on a deep emotional level to each other and the concept of sacrifice for others that built stable families in the past disappears. One interesting study showed that, in psychological terms, the development of capitalism leads very closely to a loss of a strong feeling function because strongly feeling-oriented people do not do well in a corporate-dominated business environment.

At the same time, socialism can be seen as aiming for a world populated entirely by "thinking types" because even its advocates like Sandra Bloodworth and Tess Lee Ack admit it is based on destroying the family, which is in effect destroying empathy and emotional bonding as completely as possible. Modern industrial society is almost like creating a world where feeling and caring do not matter - or at least that is the seemingly inevitable product of the response of workers thereto. Whilst in terms of social equality and environmental sustainability socialism could be a utopia if it occurs, there is no reason to suppose that under a genuine socialist system birthrates would not fall much further than they have fallen in countries like Italy today - like to 0.5 children per woman, or to a population halving every 13 years! As the brilliant demographer Phillip Longman (who oddly does not discuss whether South Korea will eventually succumb to deflation and anemic consumer deamnd like Japan did) shows, if there is no incentive for having babies, fertility rates can fall as infinitely far - he cites a group of college educated women having a fertility rate of only 0.37 children per woman, which in a large population would mean, in the long term, a halving every 12 years or a decline of 99 percent within a human lifetime!!

South Korea, it is fair to say, is the extreme case in point. Its rural population - 86 percent of the total as recently as 1960 - is now only 14 percent and the average age of its farmers, depsite lavish subsidies, is something like 57. Under such conditions, very low levels of community involvement and of fertility are hardly unexpected.

paula said at January 14, 2008 4:05 AM:

does any one have anything to add or any info about giving birth in korea. I am a midwife hopefully about to go out to south korea to study birth in a south korean setting. I wonder if I am going to see any births!

Andrew said at March 13, 2008 9:42 PM:

Koreans seem to have genes for working very hard and a culture that prizes education. That is what
results in the high IQ. I don't think they have more "high IQ genes" than Europeans, for example.

Mike said at October 2, 2008 8:10 AM:

What does IQ really mean? If one understands how an IQ test works then they can influence the result. The Nobel prize winners list would be a better comparison... (if there really is a difference of IQ between countries, which is probably nonsense)

Sakahura said at April 22, 2009 7:47 PM:

I'm pretty sure that the low birthrate has to do with there being such a prevalence of plastic surgery and emphasis on "beauty" ie big eyes, prominently pointed nose and "small" faces in SK. Most of it is achieved with surgery and cosmetics. Sadly, I suspect many women are afraid to have children because the culture has gotten into a habit of judging people so harsly on their appearance. Plastic surgery is commonplace in SK. For instance, almost ALL girls have had at least double-eyelid surgery by the time then end their teenage years, and there are even clubs where girls pool money so they can afford the surgery. I think the young wives may be afraid that the children will look the way they did...before surgery. As a non-korean, it's weird to see this. My chinese and korean friends (well most of them, anyway) on this continent have natural eyes, and darker complexions and they don't have a complex. The women and men in Korea need to wake up. Golden skin, single eyelids and a flatter nose bridge are beautiful and unique. Why should you let your own people become extinct?

Anyway, what's with the other posts? A little too intellectual. Visit Korea and you might get an idea of what's going on.

I also agree that the whole IQ thing is dubious. Anyway, I think what they need is fewer ajummas saying "your nose is too flat" or "your skin is too dark" or "your eyes are too small." Wake up people. No wonder they don't want to have kids.

jkim said at April 27, 2009 7:40 AM:

Neither IQ tests nor number of Nobel prizes can accurately portray the intelligence of a population. For example, a bbc article states that S.Korea has 97% of its students finish high school education, and has 2nd highest math skills among high school students internationally. But this is mainly due to the cultural emphasis put on education. Speaking from my experience, all of my friends and cousins in SK started going to hakwon (after school tutoring/learning centers) since the age of six. By the time they are in high school, they go to school and hakwon from 8am-1am. If they are getting this much practice and repetition on academics, they are bound to score higher on IQ tests even if they aren't inherently intelligent.

Number of Nobel Prizes per country is also bad at measuring intelligence because these prizes are given 40-60 years after the laureate makes a discovery. 60 years ago, SKorea had been barely liberated from Japan, and had been basically destroyed in the Korean war. 40 years ago, SKorea barely even had an economy or an infrastructure to support good higher education. I doubt people could have been making any great discoveries during this time.

Western countries in general have had a deep root in science and mathematics since the 18th and 19th centuries, with the development of scientific method and the establishment of 100s of universities. The Nobel Prize was also created from this Western academic tradition. Korea, has not even had "modern/western" styled universities until the mid 20th century. I think it'd be unfair to compare Asian countries to European countries in terms of Nobel Prizes at the moment. To further support my point, Japan, which had adopted "modern" education in the late 19th century slightly earlier than Korea but much later than Western countries, has had more Nobel Laureates than Korea, but still less than the Western nations.

Also, South Korea has an education based on grueling repetition, and memorization. While this might create higher average IQ, I hardly doubt many creative geniuses could be produced from this (Although they have began pushing for schools modeled off of highly selective American public high schools such as IMSA).

In essence, average IQ and number of Nobel laureates give people a feel for what kind of education a country has, but nothing much about the inherent intelligence or genetics of a population.

Vladimir said at November 15, 2009 4:12 AM:

Iquality between sexes is the reason.

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