SEJONG -- It is widely known to the public that South Korea’s senior population is rapidly growing, as the government and media outlets have continued to raise awareness about the aged society and demographic changes.
The percentage of Koreans aged 70 or over has surpassed 10 percent. Further, the percentage of those aged 65 or over -- who are classified as seniors -- has exceeded 15 percent.
The situation of fast-aging is getting more critical, given the current figure for the population of those aged 50 or over, many of whom are about to retire or become senior citizens in about a decade.
According to the Ministry of Interior and Safety, the number of Koreans aged 50 and above exceeded 20 million this year for the first time in history.
Job seekers look at a bulletin board on which companies post recruitment notices for the middle-aged and elderly in Guri, Gyeonggi Province. (Gyeonggi Provincial Office)
While there were 19.8 million Koreans in their 50s or older in December 2018, that figure had risen to 20.3 million by September 2019.
The seriousness lies in their proportion as they took up 39.1 percent of the nation’s population, 51.8 million, as of last month. This indicates that 2 in 5 Koreans are aged 50 or more.
A decade ago in September 2009, they accounted for 27.6 percent of the population.
By generation, those in their 50s topped the list in the number with 8.6 million in September, outstripping those in their 40s at 8.3 million, those in their 30s at 7.1 million and those in their 20s at 6.8 million. The people in their teens and those aged below 10 stayed at 5 million and 4.1 million, respectively.
Those aged between 60 and 69 came to 6.1 million, followed by those in their 70s at 3.5 million, those in their 80s at 1.6 million, those in their 90s at 226,000.
The number of centenarians also reached an all-time high of 19,876 last month, compared to 2,582 in September 2009.
A decade ago, the population in their 50s was 6.3 million, which is lower than those in their 40s with 8.7 million, those in their 30s with 8.3 million, those in their 20s with 7 million and this in their teens with 6.8 million.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
These figures indicate that the population of 50s-and-above surged 47.8 percent over the past 10 years, while the growth of total population inched up 4.3 percent.
South Koreans’ average age reached to an all-time high of 42.5 years as of September, compared with 37.4 a decade earlier. The average age reached the 40 mark in October 2014 for the first time.
The average ages for men and women were 41.3 and 43.6, respectively, across the country.
By region, South Jeolla Province recorded the highest at 46.1 in the average age. North Gyeongsang Province ranked second at 45.4, followed by Gangwon Province at 45.2, North Jeolla Province at 44.8 and Busan (the nation’s second-largest city) at 44.4.
Meanwhile, Korean citizens’ lifespan is quickly extending. South Korea ranked 14th with 82.4 years at the current stage.
The nation is expected to overtake France (10th as of 2020), Sweden (11th), Israel (11th) and Canada (13th) by 2040 in life expectancy, and to further surpass Italy (sixth as of 2020), Australia (eighth) and Iceland (ninth) by 2060, according to forecast from the United Nations.
Local think tanks warn that the social burden of caring for elderly people through taxes and other resources, will worsen in the coming years and decades.
The Korea Economic Research Institute, in its report, said the nation was projected to see its “gross domestic product drop by 0.97 percent every time the proportion of elderly people to the total population increases by 1 percentage point.”
By Kim Yon-se (email@example.com)