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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Korea’s population set to plummet back to 1970s levels

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Korea's population is shrinking and aging fast amid record-low birthrates. Pictured is a registration form for a birth certificate at a district office in Seoul. [NEWS1]
Korea’s population is shrinking and aging fast amid record-low birthrates. Pictured is a registration form for a birth certificate at a district office in Seoul. [NEWS1]

In 50 years, Korea’s population will likely shrink from the current 52 million to 36 million, a level last seen during the impoverished 70s, even under an optimistic scenario with a higher fertility rate than now.

The last time Korea had a population of 36 million was back in 1977, according to Statistics Korea Thursday.

Though the figure of 36 million had been calculated based on estimates that the current birthrate will rise, Korea has been globally unmatched with its rapidly dropping fertility, which first dropped below 1.0 in 2018 and hit 0.78 in 2022. Coupled with an aging population, experts have warned that the country’s young population will not be able to sustain itself within a few years.

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The total Korean population, which reached 51.67 million people last year, will go up to 51.75 million people next year but will first show a downturn in 2025 to reach 51.68 million before dwindling down to 36.22 million people by 2072, according to data from Statistics Korea.

The numbers above were calculated based on estimates that the current birthrate of 0.7 will rise to 1.0, which is a relatively positive scenario projection. Population prospects are calculated based on a combination of the country’s birthrate, life expectancy and immigration, and can be divided into low, medium and high scenario projections.

Based on the low fertility scenario, where the birthrate remains similar to the current rate of 0.7 to 0.8, the total Korean population will be barely above 30 million people, at 30.17 million. Even in the high fertility scenario, where fertility rates go up to 1.34, the total population will reach 42.82 million people, which is still lower than this year’s figure.

Experts have mainly cited the high price of parenthood in Korea due to a competitive education landscape and rising housing prices, social taboos against babies born out of wedlock, the dilemma women have to face between pursuing careers and family in a patriarchal society and an unforgiving working culture as the reasons behind falling birthrates.

Korea's shrinking, aging population [NAM JUNG-HYUN]
Korea’s shrinking, aging population [NAM JUNG-HYUN]

Korean society is also rapidly aging, while the workforce shrinks. The primary workforce, which consists of people aged between 15 and 64, made up 71.1 percent of the total population last year at 36.74 million. The forecast shows that it will drop down to 16.58 million people, or 45.8 percent of the population, in 2072, based on the medium scenario.

The workforce also decreases by 320,000 people on average each year and will be dropping by 500,000 people annually by 2030.

Meanwhile, people over the age of 65, which make up 17.4 percent of the current population, is predicted to make up 47.7 percent in 2072.

Statistics Korea estimates the dependency ratio to increase from 40.6 people per 100 people in 2022 to 118.5 people per 100 people in 2072.

A low dependency ratio would typically mean that there are sufficient people working who can support the dependent population, which consists of children and older adults. It could also allow for better pensions and better health care. A higher ratio would indicate more financial stress on working people to support the dependent population.

BY KIM JU-YEON [kim.juyeon2@joongang.co.kr]