Total Fertility Rate in East Asia

How many children do women have on average in East Asia?

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Map of the total fertility rate in East Asia.

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East Asia has some of the lowest (if not the lowest) fertility rates in the world. The fertility rates vary slightly by source, but South Korea is often quoted as the country with the lowest fertility rate in the world, varying from 0.7 to 0.9.

The total fertility rate is the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime. The replacement rate is 2.1. Which means that in East Asia, only Mongolian people have enough kids to maintain a positive natural population growth.

It is believed that Vienna in the 1930s had the lowest fertility rate ever record. It was somewhere between 0.60 and 0.70. If that is true, then Seoul (0.63) and Shanghai (0.69) are the first areas in a very very long time that come close to that number.

Although Japan is seen as one of the fastest ageing countries in the world, they still have a relatively high fertility rate for East Asian standards. In most of Japan the fertility rate is between 1.3 and 2.0. Still below replacement rate, but higher than almost all of South Korea, Taiwan and even most of China.

The fertility rates in China are looking slightly better than South Korea and Taiwan, but fertility rates have been dropping rapidly over the past years in China, despite the government relaxing the one-child policy to a 3-child policy. For Taiwan and South Korea, these low fertility rates are less worrying as they are already developed countries. China however, is still a middle-income country and it’s getting old before it’s getting rich. Its working age population is shrinking and its elderly population is only increasing. Without immigration, this will lead to a slowdown of China’s economic growth and could lead China into a period of economic stagnation that could last decades (similar to Japan in the 90s).

Like all numbers coming from China, there are also doubts about the reliability of China’s demographic data. Many experts believe that China’s real fertility rate might be even lower than South Korea’s, which would make China the fastest ageing country in the world. China’s reported numbers are already looking really bad for China’s economic outlook, but it could even be worse.

If you’re curious about the fertility rates by region in Europe, check out this map.

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