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[News Focus] No. of Koreans aged over 80 up 1 million since 2009

Korea seemingly unrivaled in lifespan growth

SEJONG -- South Korea has been picked as one of the few aged societies in Asia, alongside Japan, Hong Kong and Macao, with the average lifespan continuously rising.

According to Statistics Korea, life expectancy at birth – average projected lifespan -- reached 82.7 years as of 2018.

Korea posted the same life expectancy a year earlier, ranking quite high among 36 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Japan topped the list with 84.2 years, followed by Switzerland with 83.6, Spain with 83.4 and Italy with 83. Korea, alongside Iceland and Norway, ranked fifth as of 2017.

Korea ranked above countries including the US (78.6), Germany (81.1), Netherlands (81.8), Canada (82) and the UK (81.3). In addition, Koreans’ lifespan far surpassed that of non-OECD members: China (76.5), Russia (72.6), Indonesia (69.4) and India (68.9).


Participants at a center for the aged society experience life as seniors in the future via virtual reality devices. (Miraeseum Seongnam Senior Complex)
Participants at a center for the aged society experience life as seniors in the future via virtual reality devices. (Miraeseum Seongnam Senior Complex)

As for women, Korea ranked third with 85.7 in the 2017 OECD comparison, trailing Japan (No. 1 with 87.3) and Spain (No. 2 with 86.1). The figure for Korean men was 79.7, which stayed at 15th among OECD members.

Statistics Korea estimates that the life expectancy for Koreans born this year would reach 83.2 years (80.3 for men and 86.1 for women), and up to 84.2 for those born in 2025.

After topping 85 in 2029, the figure would gradually climb to 86.8 in 2040, 88.2 in 2050, and 90 (88.4 for men and 91.6 for women) in 2066, the state-run agency forecast.

Analysts warn that the social burden of caring for elderly people will worsen in the coming years and decades.

The Korea Economic Research Institute predicted that the nation will 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.”

During the Dec. 2009-Dec. 2019 period, the number of Koreans aged 80 or over increased by more than 1 million -- from 876,000 (1.7 percent of then-population) to 1.88 million (3.6 percent of the current population), according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety.

As for all seniors -- those aged 65 or over -- the number came to 8.02 million as of December, compared to 5.26 million a decade earlier.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

Data from the United Nations suggested that Koreans’ lifespan increased sharply at the highest speed in the world since 2000.

In 2000, Japan topped the list in the world with life expectancy of 80.5 years -- for those born between 1995 and 2000 -- according to UN estimates.

Among other higher-ranked groups were Greece (78.1), the Netherlands (77.8), Cyprus (77.7), New Zealand (77.6), Austria (77.5), Malta (77.5), Belgium (77.4), Germany (77.3), UK (77.2) and Finland at (77.1).

The next group of high rankers were the US (76.5), Cuba (76.2), Chile (76.1), Denmark (76.1), Qatar (76), Portugal (76), Ireland (76) and Slovenia (75.3).

In the corresponding year, Korea ranked behind the abovementioned countries and far behind Japan, with life expectancy at only 74.9 years. But this has jumped over the past two decades.

For the 2020 estimate -- for those born between 2015 and 2020 -- life expectancy for Koreans stands at 82.4 years, overtaking all the countries. The corresponding UN estimates for the US, Germany and the UK stood at 79.6, 81.3 and 81.8 years respectively. North Korea and China posted 71.9 and 76.5 years, respectively.

The top three rankers were Hong Kong (84.2), Macao (84) and Japan (84). Korea ranked 14th alongside Norway (82.4).

Korea is projected to overtake France (10th as of 2020), Sweden (11th), Israel (11th) and Canada (13th) by 2040, and to further surpass Italy (sixth as of 2020), Australia (eighth) and Iceland (ninth) by 2060, according to its forecast. Furthermore, its global ranking could rise from the current 14th to 10th in two decades, and by eight notches to sixth in four decades.

The UN predicts that Korea would see its citizens’ average lifespan reach 89.1 in 2065, when Hong Kong is expected to post 90.5 followed by Macao (90.4), Japan (89.8), Singapore (89.4), Switzerland (89.2) and Spain (89.1).

By Kim Yon-se (