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2020 marked the first time in history that South Korea had fewer births than deaths. South Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world. The birth rate in Korea has been on a steady decline since the start of this century. Declining birth rates have been a common phenomenon around the world in recent years. South Korea is now the latest country to join the growing list of countries which have experienced more deaths than births in a year.

During most of the 20th century, the population of the world increased at an incredible pace. From 1950 to 1975 not a single country in the world reported more deaths than births in any year. The population of the planet subsequently increased from around 1.6 billion at the beginning of the century to around 6.1 billion by the year 2000. During the 21st century, we have seen a steady increase in the number of countries that have reported more deaths than births. Currently, the number of countries that have reported more deaths than births is still in the low 20s. However, the UN predicts that this number will rise to as many as 120 countries by the end of this century.

The new figures from South Korea have caused concern within the government and the Interior Ministry said fundamental changes were necessary. President Moon Jae In recently unveiled a new scheme designed to encourage families to have children. Beginning in 2022, families will receive a one-time payment of 2 million won ($1830) to help with prenatal care during the pregnancy. Families will then receive 300,000 won ($274) per month for the first year of the child’s life. This will then increase to 500,000 won ($457) per month from 2025.

The problem in Korea has been partially blamed on the difficulty for women to strike a healthy work/life balance. Work culture in Korea can be exceedingly tough for everyone with long working hours and high demands on employees being commonplace throughout the country.  It is not unusual for employees to work until late into the evening each night and start work again early the next morning. This leaves little free time for raising a family. The pressure on women is intense and some are often reluctant to take maternity leave to start a family as they don’t want to fall behind in their career.

Another factor for the declining birth rate is the increasing cost of living in South Korea. This is an issue that people in many countries are experiencing and has been blamed for the rising age at which people are having children around the world. Many young people do not feel secure enough financially to have children or fear the costs associated with raising a child, such as childcare and the cost of needing larger homes.  Similar circumstances have been reported for young people when it comes to buying homes and getting married. The high costs of which have seen the average age of both rise substantially in many countries. South Korea may be the latest country to join the list of countries with more deaths than births but it certainly won’t be the last.

Difficult words

Century (n): 100 years.

Phenomenon (n): A remarkable thing, person or occurrence.

Subsequently (adv): To happen after something else.

Fundamental (adj): Necessary or needed.

Unveil (v): To show for the first time.

Prenatal (adj): Before birth.

Commonplace (adj): A very common or usual thing to happen.

Reluctant (adj): Being hesitant to do something.

Maternity (adj): In connection with pregnancy.

Activities

For listening practise, listen to the recorded article here:

American English Audio:

Match the Synonym!

1. CenturyA. Next
2. PhenomenonB. Hesitant
3. SubsequentlyC. 100 years.
4. FundamentalD. Before birth.
5. UnveilE. Reveal
6. PrenatalF. Remarkable occurrence.
7. CommonplaceG. About pregnancy.
8. ReluctantH. Usual
9. MaternityI. Necessary

True or False?

1.  In 2020, South Korea had more deaths than births. T / F

2.  Declining birth rates have been common around the world. T / F

3. The population decreased during most of the 20th century. T / F

4. 120 countries have currently reported more deaths than births. T / F

5. The Korean government is not concerned about the decline in births. T / F

6. President Moon Jae In has a new plan to rectify the declining births. T / F

7. In 2025, the monthly payments to new parents will stop. T / F

8. Women in Korea have a difficulty striking a good work/life balance. T / F

9. Korea is known for their low work hours and low pressure jobs. T / F

10. Finances do not play a role in the decline of births. T / F

Unscramble the sentence!

1. has / the / South Korea / birth / rate / in / lowest / world / the

2. rate / been / Korea / decline / birth / a / on / steady / The / has / in

3. population / The / of / the / increased / planet / subsequently

4. from / concern / have / figures / South Korea / new / The / caused

5. in / tough / Work / be / can / Korea / exceedingly / culture

Listening and Vocabulary

Listen to the article and fill in the words OR practice vocabulary and fill in the words.

American English Audio:

SubstantiallyCenturyPressure
FewerPaceBlamed
FactorSecureEncourage

2020 marked the first time in history that South Korea had (1)_________ births than deaths. South Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world. The birth rate in Korea has been on a steady decline since the start of this century. Declining birth rates have been a common phenomenon around the world in recent years. South Korea is now the latest country to join the growing list of countries which have experienced more deaths than births in a year.

During most of the 20th century, the population of the world increased at an incredible (2)_______. From 1950 to 1975 not a single country in the world reported more deaths than births in any year. The population of the planet subsequently increased from around 1.6 billion at the beginning of the century to around 6.1 billion by the year 2000. During the 21st (3)__________, we have seen a steady increase in the number of countries that have reported more deaths than births. Currently, the number of countries that have reported more deaths than births is still in the low 20s. However, the UN predicts that this number will rise to as many as 120 countries by the end of this century.

The new figures from South Korea have caused concern within the government and the Interior Ministry said fundamental changes were necessary. President Moon Jae In recently unveiled a new scheme designed to (4)______________ families to have children. Beginning in 2022, families will receive a one-time payment of 2 million won ($1830) to help with prenatal care during the pregnancy. Families will then receive 300,000 won ($274) per month for the first year of the child’s life. This will then increase to 500,000 won ($457) per month from 2025.

The problem in Korea has been partially (5)__________ on the difficulty for women to strike a healthy work/life balance. Work culture in Korea can be exceedingly tough for everyone with long working hours and high demands on employees being commonplace throughout the country.  It is not unusual for employees to work until late into the evening each night and start work again early the next morning. This leaves little free time for raising a family. The (6)____________ on women is intense and some are often reluctant to take maternity leave to start a family as they don’t want to fall behind in their career.

Another (7)__________ for the declining birth rate is the increasing cost of living in South Korea. This is an issue that people in many countries are experiencing and has been blamed for the rising age at which people are having children around the world. Many young people do not feel (8)_________ enough financially to have children or fear the costs associated with raising a child, such as childcare and the cost of needing larger homes.  Similar circumstances have been reported for young people when it comes to buying homes and getting married. The high costs of which have seen the average age of both rise (9)_______________ in many countries. South Korea may be the latest country to join the list of countries with more deaths than births but it certainly won’t be the last.

Conversation Questions

Take turns speaking with a partner or try to answer on your own:

1. Did you find this article interesting? Why or why not?
2. Did you learn anything new from this article? If so, what?
3. What do you think of this story?
4. Is it expensive to raise children in your country?
5. What is the cost of living like where you live?
6. Is work culture in your country stressful?
7. Are there any other reasons why you think people might not be having children?
8. How easy is it for women to take maternity leave in your country?
9. Does your country have paternity leave? If so, do fathers use it?
10. Do you know if people are having fewer children in your country?
11. Are people getting married later or buying houses later in your country?
12. How do you think the Korean government can encourage people to have children?
13. How big of a problem do you think it is that people are having fewer children?
14. Do you think it is more difficult to raise children today compared to 20-30 years ago?
15. How many children do people usually have in your country?
16. How easy is it to have a successful career and care for children in your country?
17. Should people be encouraged to have fewer children because it is more environmentally friendly?
18. How many hours a week do people usually work in your country?
19. Do people receive any benefits for having children in your country?
20. What could the government do to make you want to have children?