The pandemic’s long reach: South Korea’s fiscal and fertility outlook

Policy Brief
21-16
June 2021
Photo Credit: 
Saito vía Yonhap/Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect

This research is part of a 2020–21 series on the Korean economy. For additional research, look under "Recommended."

South Korea was one of the first countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. A combination of high societal discipline and competent and prompt government actions on mass testing capacity and technologically enabled tracing and quarantines enabled South Korea to quickly control the pandemic. Consequently, South Korea did not need to enter into full economic lockdown in early 2020 and needed only much smaller fiscal stimulus than most other advanced economies. The limited fiscal impact of COVID-19 is fortuitous for South Korea, as the pandemic coincided with the country’s dramatic demographic transition to a future of rapidly shrinking working-age population and accelerating overall aging. South Korea recorded the lowest total fertility rate of any advanced economy in 2020. Unless fertility rates rise, the country will not escape large and negative economic effects from what will be a rapidly declining total and working-age population. Kirkegaard proposes several policy reforms for South Korea, while arguing that the direct role of government action in increasing the South Korean fertility levels is likely to be modest.

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Jacob Funk Kirkegaard Senior Research Staff

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