SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) — The number of babies born in South Korea fell to a fresh record low in March, data showed Wednesday, underscoring the country’s gloomy demographic situation with the chronically low birth rate.

A total of 24,054 babies were born in March, down 0.6 percent from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea.

It marked the lowest for any March since 1981, when the statistics agency began compiling related data.

In the first quarter, the number of childbirths reached a record low of 70,519, down 4.3 percent from the previous year.

South Korea is struggling with a sustained fall in childbirths as many young people delay marriage or give up on getting married or having babies amid a prolonged economic slowdown.

The country’s total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime — hit a new record low of 0.84 last year. It marked the third straight year that the rate was below 1 percent.

In the first quarter, the total fertility rate reached 0.88, the lowest level since 2009, when the agency started compiling related data.

In March, the number of deaths rebounded after falling for the second straight month.

The number of deaths came to 26,603 in the month, up 2.9 percent from a year earlier.

This resulted in the country’s population declining by 2,549, marking the 17th straight month of fall.

South Korea reported the first natural decline in population last year as the number of deaths outpaced that of newborns amid the country’s rapid aging and low birth rate.

Meanwhile, the number of couples getting married declined to a record low in March as the pandemic delayed the timing of weddings amid the downtrend in marriages.

The number of people tying the knot declined 13.4 percent on-year to 16,763, the data showed.

It marked the lowest for any March since 1981, when the agency began compiling related data.

Divorces rose 24.4 percent on-year to 9,074 in March, the sharpest on-year gain since March 1998, when they increased 27.3 percent.

The increase came as courts temporarily closed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year. The number of “twilight” divorces after 20 years of marriage also rose, according to the agency.