SEJONG, July 27 (Yonhap) — The number of babies born in South Korea hit an all-time high in May due to the chronically low birth rate, while the number of deaths hit an all-time high amid aging rapid and COVID-19 pandemic, data showed Wednesday.

A total of 20,007 babies were born in May, down 8.8 percent from a year earlier, according to data from Statistics Korea.

It marked the lowest for any May since the statistics agency began compiling related data in 1981.

South Korea is grappling with a chronic decline in births as many young people delay or forgo getting married or having babies amid a slowing economy and high housing prices, coupled with changing social norms regarding marriages.

The country’s total fertility rate – the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime – hit a record high of 0.81 last year, from 0.84 the previous year. It was the fourth year in a row that the rate was below 1.

Rapid aging and the pandemic pushed the death toll to a record high in May, the data shows.

The number of deaths stood at 28,859 during the cited period, up 12.8% from a year ago, marking the 15th consecutive month of increases.

It was the highest for any May since the agency began compiling related data in 1983. It also marked the fastest annual rise for any May.

South Korea suffered the worst wave of omicron in March, with daily virus cases rising to over 620,000 at one point. Deaths from COVID-19 hit a record high of 469 on March 24.

As the number of deaths exceeded births, the country’s population fell by 8,852 in May, marking the 31st consecutive month of decline. It was also the steepest drop in any May to date.

South Korea reported the first natural decline in its population in 2020 as the grim demographic trend continued.

Meanwhile, the number of people getting married rose 5.5% year-on-year to 17,041, but the rise was the second-lowest in history.

Amid the downward trend in weddings, more people have postponed or delayed their weddings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said.

Divorces fell 0.9% year-on-year to 8,372, the data showed.

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