S. Korea’s 65-and-up population to double by 2040 as working-age demographic plummets

Posted on : 2022-04-15 17:28 KST Modified on : 2022-04-15 17:28 KST
The demographic changes suggest that the burden of care on younger Koreans will effectively double
(courtesy of ClipartKorea)
(courtesy of ClipartKorea)

South Korea’s working-age population is projected to decline by more than 9 million from the 2020 figure over the next 18 years. While the population of Korean children is also projected to decrease during the same period, the 65-and-up population will more than double, effectively doubling the burden of care on younger workers.

According to projections published Thursday by Statistics Korea, the Korean population (according to the median projection) will decrease by 2.1 million people, from 50.13 million in 2020 to 48.03 million in 2040. The working-age population, characterized as those ages 15-64, will shrink by the largest amount, from 35.83 million in 2020 to 32.21 million in 2030 and then down to 26.76 million in 2040.

Consequently, the working-age population’s share of the entire Korean population will fall sharply from 71.5% in 2020 to 55.7% in 2040.

Statistics Korea predicted that the working-age population will shrink by an average of 360,000 each year in the 2020s, while the baby boom generation (representing those born in 1955-1963) is graying, and by 550,000 each year during the 2030s.

In contrast, the older segment of the population — defined as those 65 and older — is projected to more than double over the next two decades, from 8.07 million (16.1%) in 2020 to 16.98 million (35.3%) in 2040.

The older population is expected to exceed 10 million by 2025 and reach 15 million in 2035. Because of Korea’s low birth rate, the child population — defined as ages 14 and younger — will decrease from 6.23 million (12.4%) in 2020 to 4.3 million (8.9%) in 2040.

If these projections prove true, younger people will have to shoulder an even heavier burden than they currently do. The dependency ratio, which is defined as the number of children and elderly people who must be supported for every 100 working-age Koreans, will rise from 39.9 in 2020 to 50 in 2028 and then to 79.5 in 2040.

The population of those with a “migrant background” will increase from 2.18 million in 2020 to 3.23 million in 2040. As a result, that population’s share of the total will rise from 4.2% to 6.4% over the same period.

This category includes non-Koreans, naturalized Koreans, second-generation immigrants, and individuals with one parent who is currently a foreign national or who was at the time of birth.

In that population grouping, the number of naturalized Koreans is projected to rise from 190,000 to 470,000 and the number of second-generation immigrants from 280,000 to 600,000 between 2020 and 2040, with both populations more than doubling during that period. The number of people of school age (aged 6-21) in the migrant background population is expected to increase by 60% over the same period, from 300,000 to 470,000.

“Statistics Korea’s demographic projections remind us once again that the population decline cannot be resolved through immigration alone and that society as a whole needs to swiftly take measures to address the demographic issue,” said Lee Sang-rim, an analyst at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

“A population decline will have a severe impact that will vary by region, class and generation. Therefore, we need to go beyond mere financial support programs and start talking about drawing up a blueprint that can gain the support of society,” he continued.

By Lee Jeong-hun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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