50 million strong, for now

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50 million strong, for now

Korea reported that its population exceeded 50 million, becoming the 25th country to reach the mark and seventh among countries with a per capita income of more than $20,000. The size of population reflects national power and demand potential for sustainable economic growth.

In the census outlook in 2006, Statistics Korea predicted that the Korean population would not likely reach the 50 million threshold. It forecasted that it would peak at 49.3 million in 2018 and then drop. With greater awareness of demographic problems, the fertility rate began to improve slightly and helped to stimulate growth in the population. The birth rate that fell to 1.04 edged up to 1.24 last year, while the life expectancy rate continued to grow. Increase in immigrants of foreign origin also contributed in boosting the overall population figure.

But the country is unlikely to maintain the population size for long. If the trend of low birth rate continues, the country’s population will likely peak at 52.16 million in 2030 and slip below the 50 million mark around 2045.

The demographic features also pose a concern. A low fertility rate and aging acceleration will push up the average age of the labor force, reducing the economically active population. The medium age will rise to 48.5 years in 2030 from 37.9 years in 2010 and reach 52.6 in 2040. The productive population would sharply drop from the peak in 2016. The country’s overall productivity would be dampened due to a reduced labor force as well as a capacity for learning and developing new innovation and technology. A generational gap and conflict over scarce jobs could trigger various social problems. The country’s growth potential would be undermined by rising social welfare costs to support the growing nonworking elderly population.

Authorities must come up with measures to sustain and support a population of 50 million without jeopardizing the economy and creating social conflict. It must come up with various ways to promote new births, utilize a retired labor force and better engage foreigners. The government and politicians should discuss increased funding to encourage birth and should study other developed countries’ examples and cases to concoct measures to extend work for the elderly population. Both the government and society should pay more attention to improving the living conditions and treatment of immigrated workers and multinational families.

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