(ATTN: RECASTS throughout to highlight fertility rate, quarterly figures)
SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's first-quarter fertility rate hit a fresh nadir and its population fell for 29 months running in March amid rising deaths, data showed Wednesday, pointing to the country's gloomy demographic situation and chronically low birthrate.
The country's total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime -- came to 0.86 in the January-March period, the lowest figure for any first quarter, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea.
It marked the 12th straight quarter that the figure had been below 1.
As the number of newborns tends to decline in later months every year, the total fertility rate is widely expected to remain below 1 in 2022 for the fifth consecutive year. The figure was 0.81 last year.
In the first quarter, 68,177 babies were born in the country, down 2.8 percent from a year ago and the lowest tally for any first quarter ever.
A total of 22,925 babies were born in March, down 4.2 percent from a year earlier and the lowest tally for any March.
On an annualized basis, the number of newborns has been falling since December 2015.
South Korea is struggling with a chronic decrease in childbirths as many young people delay or give up on getting married or having babies amid a prolonged economic slowdown and skyrocketing housing prices.
The data also showed the number of deaths jumping 33.2 percent on-year to a record high of 103,363 in the first quarter amid the COVID-19 pandemic and rapid aging. In March, the figure spiked 67.6 percent on-year to a new high of 44,487.
Accordingly, the country's population fell by 21,526 in March, representing the 29th straight month of decline.
South Korea reported the first natural decline in population in 2020, as the number of deaths outpaced that of births. The country's total population declined for the first time last year, due to the low birthrate, rapid aging and a fall in incoming foreigners due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the number of people getting married fell 5.5 percent on-year to 45,377 in the first quarter, the lowest since the third quarter of 2021. Marriages declined 8.6 percent to 15,316 in March, the lowest for any March.
In the first quarter, divorces dipped 11.2 percent on-year to 22,377, with March's number sinking 13.1 percent to 7,882, marking the 12th consecutive month of decline.