South Korea’s Demographic Trends Continue to Decline
October 7, 2022
This article was published on The Diplomat on August 9, 2022.
South Korea’s total fertility rate has been below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman since 1983. As new data from the United Nation’s World Population Prospects shows, the decline in total fertility is deepening the downward trend in South Korea’s demographics.
South Korea used to have a relatively young population. The portion of the young, non-working age population 14 and under was roughly on average with the OECD as recently as 2005. However, in less than two decades the young have become a smaller share of South Korea’s population than in any country other than Japan, and South Korea is expected to pass Japan for the smallest youth population this year.
In contrast, the share of South Koreans over the age of 65 has grown from 10.8 percent of the population in 2010 to 17.5 percent in 2022. Based on current trends, Statistics Korea estimates that senior citizens will account for 30 percent of the population in 2036 and 40 percent by 2051.
Total fertility trends have become more extreme in recent years. In 2018, South Korea became the first country to see its total fertility rate fall below 1.0. It has declined each year since and is estimated to have fallen to 0.81 in 2021. This has implications for South Korea’s demographic trends.
The United Nations last did population estimates in 2019. Based on those estimates, South Korea was estimated to have a relatively modest population decline from a high of 51.34 million in 2025 to 49.78 million under the medium variant. The new estimates put South Korea’s population at 49.32 million in 2040.
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