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South Korea foreshadows global slowdown

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NEW YORK - In 1960, South Korea had a total fertility rate of more than six children per woman, high enough to cause a population explosion. But as the country developed, this number dropped decade by decade.

A country needs a fertility rate of about 2.1 — a little more than one child per parent — to maintain long-term population stability. South Korea’s fertility is now about half that number. And it’s still falling. The country’s statistics office reported that in 2018 the fertility rate fell to a record low of 0.98 — much lower even than in countries such as Japan, whose rate is above 1.4.

This means that South Korea is headed for a demographic crash. Although the country’s population has been rising due to higher birthrates in earlier generations — an effect known as population momentum — this is set to reverse as early as next year. During the next half-century, unless something changes, the population of 51 million could fall by a third.

The question is whether this rapid shrinkage will hurt South Korea’s economy. Mathematically, it’s possible for countries to endure population decline while growing richer on a per capita basis. This has been the experience of Japan, whose population has been shrinking since 2008.

So if people can continue to get richer, why does total population size matter? The answer, in short, is because........

© The Japan Times