SEOUL – South Korea's total births and fertility rate fell to record lows in 2022, data showed Wednesday, signaling a red alarm on the growth potential of Asia's fourth-largest economy.
Only 249,000 babies were born in 2022, down 11,000 from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea.
It marked the first time that the figure had fallen below 250,000 since the agency started compiling related data in 1970.
The fertility rate, the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime, came to a fresh low of 0.78 in 2022, much lower than the replacement level of 2.1 that would keep South Korea's population stable at 51 million.
The figure, which came to 4.53 in 1970, fell below one for the first time in 2018.
South Korea was the only country with a fertility rate below 1 among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2021.
The data showed that the average age of women giving birth reached a record high of 33.5, marking a slight increase of 0.2 from the previous year.
The average age of fathers was 36, slightly up from the previous year to a new high.
Reflecting the trend of couples marrying at a relatively older age, mothers giving birth at an age of 35 or higher accounted for 35.7 percent, up 0.6 percentage points on-year.
The ratio marked a drastic rise from just 18.7 percent posted in 2012.
The central city of Sejong, which houses major government organizations, posted the highest fertility rate of 1.12, followed by South Jeolla Province with 0.97.
Seoul posted the lowest figure of 0.59, and the southeastern port city of Busan reported 0.72.
Among the newborns, 156,000 were parents' first children, accounting for 62.7 percent of the babies.
Around 46.8 percent of initial births took place within the second year of marriage.
The report, meanwhile, showed that there were 104.7 newborn boys for every 100 girls in 2022, down 0.4 from a year earlier. (Yonhap)