Greater Seoul population exceeds 50% of S. Korea for first time

Posted on : 2020-01-07 18:34 KST Modified on : 2020-01-07 18:40 KST
Civic groups call for governmental balanced development plans
A view of the Seoul skyline.
A view of the Seoul skyline.

For the first time in the history of South Korea, the population of the greater Seoul area, or the Seoul Capital Area (SCA), has exceeded 50% of the country’s total population. Experts say that the concentration of wealth, power, and people in the capital, a phenomenon that has been in place since the country’s industrialization, has now reached an extreme. Civic groups are calling on the government to come up with a plan for balanced development and to establish a powerful body to implement that plan.

According to citizen registration data accessed through the Korean Statistical Information Service (KOSIS) on Jan. 6, 25,925,799 South Korean citizens, or 50.002% of the total population of 51,849,861, are living in the SCA (which includes Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon) as of the end of December 2019. That was 1,737 more than the 25,924,062 citizens (49.998% of the population) who live in Korea’s other 14 metropolitan cities and provinces. This was the first time on record that the population of the capital region exceeded that of the rest of the country.

The SCA population comprises 9,729,107 people living in Seoul, 13,239,666 in Gyeonggi Province, and 2,957,026 in Incheon. The population of Seoul proper exploded after the Korean War until 1992 and has been steadily declining since.

But the SCA population as a whole has continued rising amid large increases in the populations of Gyeonggi and Incheon. This is being attributed to the population of Seoul spilling over into the Gyeonggi and Incheon areas rather than shrinking as such.

As of 1970, the SCA accounted for around 28.7% of South Korea’s population. In the 50 years since then, that number has risen by 21.3 percentage points -- from 35.5% in 1980 to 42.8% in 1990, 46.3% in 2000, 49.2% in 2010, and 50% in 2019. While the SCA’s proportion of the population has risen steadily since 2000, it remained briefly stagnant between 2011 and 2015 as more residents arrived in Sejong and innovation cities amid efforts by the Roh Moo-hyun administration. But with a lack of follow-up policies to promote balanced development, the percentage began rising again in 2016 to pass the 50% mark.

In a statement published on Jan. 5, the National Forum for Balanced Development, an association of civic groups, said, “We view this unprecedented development in the history of the Republic of Korea as a very serious national emergency.”

“The Moon Jae-in administration needs to establish strong and comprehensive countermeasures at the pan-governmental level and create a unified implementation system with the executive ability to pursue balanced development and decentralization,” it urged.

“Hopefully, such ideas will be reflected in President Moon Jae-in’s scheduled New Year’s address on Jan. 7,” it added.

By Kim Kyu-won, senior staff writer

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