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Demographic shift now more evident

It’s not just birthrates - how Koreans live is rapidly changing
Aug 30,2019
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The changing demographic in Korea became more evident last year as people living alone now account for nearly 30 percent of all households while the number of families of four or more is shrinking.

The population report came a day after another report released Wednesday that showed Korea is the only country in the world with a fertility rate below 1.

According to Statistics Korea on Thursday, the country’s total population including all residents, even those that are not Korean citizens, amounted to 51.63 million as of 2018, which is 0.4 percent, or 210,000 people, more than in 2017.

Last year there were 20.05 million households, which is a 1.6 percent increase compared to the previous year. The number of households in Korea exceeded 20 million for the first time in 2017.

Single households have increased, edging closer to 30 percent of all households. Last year, people living alone accounted for 29.3 percent, up 0.7 percentage points compared to the previous year, a new record.

On the contrary, families of four or more have shrunk. Such families now account for 22.4 percent, down from 23.8 percent the previous year.

Looking at the longer trend, the change is quite dramatic. In 2000, families of four or more accounted for 44.5 percent of households, while single households accounted for 15.5 percent.

Elderly people were the largest group living alone, accounting for 18.3 percent. Those in their 20s trailed behind with 17.4 percent.

The aging population and shrinking younger population has become one of the biggest concerns in the country.

There were 7.39 million senior citizens in Korea last year, a 3.9 percent increase year-on-year, or 279,000 more people.

The elderly population accounts for 14.8 percent of the total population, which is not only up from 14.2 percent the previous year, but also a new record.

On the contrary, the number of young children has shrunk to a new low.

Toddlers and babies that are 4 years old or younger have dropped below 2 million for the first time. Last year the number of babies and toddlers amounted to 1.97 million, down 5.2 percent, or 108,000 people, from the previous year. Children that are under 4 account for just 3.9 percent of the population.

“The toddler population falling below 2 million is clear evidence of the worsening birth rate,” said a Statistics Korea official. “If this [reduced population] grows up, not only will there be problems regarding education and national defense, but there’s also concerns of the shrinking economically productive population,” the official added. “There is a need to come up with ways to deal with the [shrinking population].”

Last year there were 49.98 million Korean citizens, a 0.1 percent or 35,000 people increase from the previous year. The number of residents that are not citizens shot up to 1.65 million, an 11.6 percent increase, or 172,000 people. This group makes up 3.2 percent of the total population.

Among the non-Korean residents, Chinese citizens with Korean ancestry were the largest group, making up 32.2 percent, or 530,000 people, followed by other Chinese citizens at 13 percent, or 220,000 people. The third-largest demographic was Vietnamese citizens, accounting for 10 percent. Americans living in Korea only accounted for 4 percent.

People living in Seoul and surrounding Incheon and Gyeonggi accounted for nearly 50 percent of the total population at 25.71 million, which is 0.8 percent, or 190,000 more, than a year ago.

The Seoul population actually shrunk by 70,000 compared to a year earlier, while the populations of Incheon and Gyeonggi grew.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]