South Korea may have the lowest birth rate in the world, according to new figures.
By Caroline Gluck
BBC correspondent in Seoul
The average Korean woman has less than 1.2 children - well below the rate needed to keep the population at its current size.
Experts say that if the trend continues, South Korea could face serious manpower shortages and lower growth.
I visited one rural community in central Chungcheong province, which has been hit by a rapidly dwindling population.
Schooldays may be numbered for children in the village of Dongmyun, three hours from the capital.
Their school is the last of four in the area. In the past 30 years, the number of pupils has fallen from more than 1,000 to just over 100.
With fewer than 20 babies born last year, village head Hong Ui-jeong is doing what little he can to try to reverse the trend.
"The population in Dongmyun is dropping by about 100 people every year. To stop that, to stop our village dying, I decided to offer $80 to couples if they had a baby," Mr Hong said.
One mother who has benefited from that offer is Kim Sun-deok, nursing her two-month-old son, Song-do. She said it was a welcome gift, but doubted that it would influence couples to have a baby.
Village head Hong Ui-jeong is offering cash for babies
"I think it's better than nothing, but it's not enough to help bring up a child. Anyway, many of my friends tend to marry later in life, and by then it's too late to start a family," she said.
Rural communities like Dongmyun are suffering the most. About half of the population here is over the age of 65, and only 10% of women are of child-bearing age.
Younger couples are moving out of the countryside to cities in search of better jobs, and a better lifestyle. But the falling birth rate is evident across the country.
More working couples are thinking twice before having a baby.
They are put off by the high costs of raising children and the lack of adequate childcare and social welfare facilities.
If the downward birth rate trend continues, officials fear that within a decade, the country will face a shrinking workforce on top of a rapidly growing population of elderly.
Villages like Dongmyun could die out if the birth rate continues to fall
Population advisers like Kim Seung-kwon, of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, are worried by the falling birth rate. He said new polices were needed to promote childbirth.
"The government needs to share the economic burden, by providing more family allowances and tax breaks for couples. This should be part of an overall plan to encourage people to have children," he said.
Policies like those might help the survival of traditional villages like Dongmyun.
They were unthinkable even a decade ago - when South Korea actively encouraged population control.
But without such change, many rural communities could die out altogether.