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[News Focus] South Korea’s population declines in December

No of men down 1,788, women up 222

SEJONG -- State demographic data for last month indicates that South Korea is on the threshold of the era of population decline.

According to the Ministry of Interior and Safety, the nation’s population fell by 1,566 to record 51.849 million as of December, compared to the previous month’s figure of 51.851 million.

This marked the first time in more than 10 years since April 2009 (when it posted minus 2,716) that the monthly figure fell. While the drop in April 2009 was a sporadic occurrence, the figure in December 2019 signals a continuous drop in the coming years and decades.

The forecast among some analysts on a gradual drop in the future comes from the fact that men’s population has declined for the first time in history in 2019 on a yearly basis since the government started compiling the data.

The number of male population fell by 1,313 in 2019, compared to a year earlier. In particular, the monthly figure fell for the fifth consecutive month -- minus 261 in August, minus 354 in September, minus 844 in October, minus 575 in November and minus 1,788 in December.
This photo shows a street in Myeong-dong, downtown Seoul last summer. The capital, alongside several other metropolitan cities, initiated the decrease in South Korea’s population in December 2019. (Yonhap)
This photo shows a street in Myeong-dong, downtown Seoul last summer. The capital, alongside several other metropolitan cities, initiated the decrease in South Korea’s population in December 2019. (Yonhap)

Though the steady increase in women’s population had continued to offset the men’s figure, the number of females has also tilted toward a slowdown in growth on a monthly basis -- 2,069 in September, 2,296 in October, 1,297 in November and only 222 in December.

The women’s population has yet to post a minus figure even when the negative growth for entire population was reported twice previously -- in April 2009 and in March 2008 -- over the past decade. The two cases were led by a decrease in the number of men.

Concerning seven major cities -- Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju and Ulsan -- the number of male residents fell in all of the cities in December, and the female population fell in six areas excepting for Incheon.

Daegu toppled the list as the figure tallied minus 3,550 (minus 2,032 for men and minus 1,518 for women), followed by Seoul with minus 3,470 (minus 2,577 and minus 893), Busan with minus 2,880 (minus 1,748 and minus 1,132), Gwangju with minus 2,447 (minus 1,428 and minus1,019) and Daejeon with minus 2,085 (minus 1,000 and minus 1,085).

The heavy drop in Seoul and six other metropolitan cities was attributable to some citizens’ rush to new residential towns in Gyeonggi Province and Sejong, an administrative-oriented city fostered in 2012.

Gyeonggi (the nation’s No. 1 in population) and Sejong saw the number of registered residents climb 11,489 (5,424 for men 6,065 for women) and 1,928 (929 and 999), respectively, last month.

Nonetheless, the symptoms of a nationwide decline involving provincial areas have already surfaced in the wake of continuously sliding marriage rates and the world’s lowest fertility rates.

Ministry data showed that the number of childbirths stayed at 24,254 (12,422 boys and 11,832 girls) in December, compared to 37,028 (18,986 and 18,042) five years earlier in 2014.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

“The number of births began being outstripped by the number of deaths in the nation,” said a demographic research fellow. “The year 2020 may mark the first time that the population will decrease on a yearly basis.”

Meanwhile, the December 2019 figure aggravated worries over the current “aged society,” based on the standards set by the United Nations.

The number of people aged 65 or over, called seniors, in Korea exceeded the 8 million mark for the first time to reach 8.02 million as of last month, who take up 15.5 percent of the population.

South Korea, which was classified as an aging society in 2000, in which the proportion of seniors topped 7 percent, and classified as aged society in 2017 with their percentage topping 14 percent.

The average age of Koreans has come to 42.6 (41.5 for men and 43.8 for women). This is quite older than 40 (38.9 and 41.2) in December 2014 and 37.5 (36.4 and 38.7) in December 2009.

Last month, the number of people aged below 9 (4.16 million) was less than half of those aged between 50-59 (8.66 million) or only two-thirds of those between 60-69 (6.31 million).

By Kim Yon-se (