The number of babies born in South Korea fell to a record low for any January this year, data showed on Wednesday, deepening woes about the country’s demographic picture due to rapid aging and ultra-low birth rate.

A total of 21,442 babies were born in January 2024, down 7.7 percent from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea. It marked the lowest figure for any January since the statistics agency began compiling related data in 1981, Yonhap news agency reported.

The decline has also accelerated in recent years from a 1 percent on-year fall in January 2022 and a 5.7 percent decline in January 2023.

In January 2000, newborns stayed over 60,000 but fell below 50,000 in 2002 before sliding further to the 30,000 level in 2016.

The report said the January figure has hovered around the 20,000 level since 2020.

In terms of monthly readings, it marked the first time since March 2023 that the number of newborn babies rose to the 20,000 level, and the country usually logs a larger number of newborns in January, according to the agency.

South Korea is experiencing grim demographic changes, as many young people opt to postpone or give up on getting married or having babies in line with changing social norms and lifestyles, as well as facing high home prices, a tough job market, and an economic slowdown.

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Last year, the number of babies born in the country dropped 7.7 percent on-year to an all-time low of 229,970, the report said.

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The total fertility rate, the average number of expected births from a woman in her lifetime, also hit a record yearly low of 0.72, which came far below the 2.1 births per woman needed to maintain a stable population without immigration.

In the fourth quarter of last year alone, the rate came to 0.65, the lowest-ever quarterly figure.

The number of deaths inched down 0.5 percent on-year to 32,490 in January this year, the report said.

The population, accordingly, declined by 11,047, the sharpest fall for any January ever. The number of deaths has outpaced that of newborns since November 2019.

The number of couples getting married rose 11.6 percent on-year to 28,000, the data also showed, as more couples tied the knot after delaying marriage during the earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of couples getting divorced climbed 9.5 per cent on-year to 691, according to the data.

South Korea is expected to be a highly aged country by 2072 as the median age will increase from 44.9 in 2022 to 63.4 in 2072, and the population will tumble to around 36.22 million in 2072 from last year’s 51 million.