An expert on the ageing of populations has warned that many societies in the Asia-Pacific region are at risk of extinction after a report said South Koreans would disappear by 2750 if fertility rates did not increase.
The study, carried out by the National Assembly Research Service in Seoul, pointed out that the fertility rate had declined to 1.19 children per South Korean woman during her lifetime, significantly below the rate required to keep the population stable at around 50 million people.
A simulation conducted for Yang Seung-jo, an opposition politician and member of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, indicated last week that South Korea's population was on track to contract to 40 million people by 2056.
By the year 2136, there would be a mere 10 million South Koreans and the last citizen would die around 2750, the study claimed.
However, the research did not factor in possible leaps in the population due to immigration, for example, and is considered a "doomsday scenario" for South Koreans.
Nevertheless, Hiroshi Yoshida, a professor of the economics of ageing at Japan's Tohoku University, believed the rapid decline in populations in the region was cause for deep concern.
"East Asia is basically historically rich in fertility, but in the modern era women have received higher levels of education and gone into the labour market," he said.
"These societies have reached the same level as Europe and North America in many aspects, but when it comes to balancing careers and raising children, then East Asia is very immature," he said.
Taiwan, for example, has a fertility rate of just 0.9 children per woman and a new government report issued this week indicated that the island would see its population shrink for the first time in 2022 - four years earlier than previously predicted.
Thailand is also at risk, Yoshida said, with a fertility rate of a little below 2.0. And with that figure declining, there will inevitably be a shortage of labour in future decades in a country that is critically important for the supply of manufactured products.
Japan's population problems are well documented, but Yoshida's research makes the issue even more stark; he predicts that unless measures are taken urgently to address the falling birth rate and the broader ageing of society, then the last Japanese child could be born in the year 3011 and the country would be bereft of indigenous inhabitants within a few decades.
Similar concerns are affecting Singapore and, increasingly, China, both of which are experiencing growing financial pressures caused by rising health care costs and pension payments for an elderly population.
But the problem is particularly serious in South Korea, where more than 38 per cent of the population is predicted to be of retirement age by 2050, according to the National Statistics Office.
Part of the problem was inadvertently created by previous administrations. Concerned at the way that large families were undermining economic growth in the 1960s, the South Korean government introduced a family planning programme.
Changing public attitudes towards large families have been exacerbated by urbanisation, people getting married later in life, more women in the workforce and the increasing cost of raising children, meaning that couples are tending to focus on raising a single child.