By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - South Korea is the latest Asian country to release statistics illustrating the regional trend towards declining fertility, the result of family planning programs and changing lifestyles.
Figures from the country's National Statistical Office show that fewer babies were born in South Korea last year than in any previous year since birth rates were first recorded there three decades ago.
It said around 495,000 babies were born last year, 62,000 fewer than in 2001.
By contrast, when the government began compiling annual statistics in 1970, more than one million babies were born a year.
Total fertility rates (TFRs) are an important indicator when predicting population trends. TFR is defined as the average number of babies born to women during their reproductive years (15-44), with 2.1 being the generational replacement level.
South Korea's TFR has now fallen to 1.17, well below the replacement rate.
More than 60 countries in the world, including Western European nations, have fertility rates of below 2.1 -- the U.S. figure is 2.1 -- but it is in Asia where the figures are most striking.
Singapore has a fertility rate of 1.5 and dropping, while Hong Kong's TFR is 1.4; and in Thailand, a country where the total fertility rate exceeded six births per woman in the 1960s, the fertility rate is currently at around 1.9.