Seoul announces new measures to counter population decline

Measures will focus on schools and Armed Forces. Last year, the total fertility rate reached a record low of 0.98. For the Economy Minister, demographic challenges are a serious threat to growth. The government plans fewer soldiers in service, relying on drones and satellites. Fewer children in schools mean cuts in teacher education.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – South Korea has unveiled a series of measures to counter the demographic challenges facing the country, ranging from the army to schools.

Asia’s fourth economy is taking such steps as it faces a chronically low birth rate and a rapid aging population

Last year, the country’s total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime -- hit a record low of 0.98, much lower than the replacement level of 2.1 that would keep South Korea's population stable at 51 million.

Statistics Korea forecast that the country's population is likely to reach 39 million in 2067, sharply down from an estimated 51.7 million in 2019.

The agency said people aged 65 years or older could account for 46.5 per cent of the country's population, a sharp rise from 14.9 per cent this year.

A country is defined as a super-aged society when more than 21 percent of its people are 65 or older.

The demographic challenges “pose a grave threat that undermines South Korea's growth potential and sustainable growth,” said Hong Nam-ki, Minister of Economy and Finance.

The pending population decline has prompted the government to improve its military personnel acquisition systems and review the current method of teacher training.

South Korean authorities expect the number of people serving in the Armed Forces to drop to 230,000 in 2025 before falling to less than 200,000 after 2037, compared with 350,000 in 2018.

The government plans to reduce the number of soldiers in permanent active service, relying more on technologies such as armed drones and reconnaissance satellites.

The number of troops will drop to 500,000 by 2022, from 599,000 in 2018. In comparison, the document put the number of North Koreans in active duty at 1.28 million.

The plan covers military service for naturalised South Koreans as well. In recent years, the number who have obtained South Korean nationality exceeded 10,000: 11,270 in 2013, 10,924 in 2015 and 10,086 in 2017.

At present, all able-bodied South Korean men must serve two-year compulsory military service.

The government also intends to recalculate the number of teachers in training, to address the impending shortage of children in schools.

The authorities estimate that the number of people aged 6 to 21 will fall to 6 million in 2030, down from 8.46 million in 2017.

This reflect the drop in the number of births in South Korea to 326,822 in 2018 from a record level of 1 million in 1970.

This comes as more and more young South Koreans shy away from dating, marriage and children as they cannot find a decent job as a result of the country’s long-lasting economic slowdown.