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[News Focus] 70-somethings set to outnumber people up to 9

Population loses 180,000 since Nov. 2019

This photo shows the construction site for an apartment complex in Seoul in 1970, which was built with funds from sales of the government-issued lottery. Life expectancy at birth for Koreans in the year was 58.7 years. (National Archives of Korea)
This photo shows the construction site for an apartment complex in Seoul in 1970, which was built with funds from sales of the government-issued lottery. Life expectancy at birth for Koreans in the year was 58.7 years. (National Archives of Korea)

SEJONG -- South Koreans in their 70s are expected to outnumber those aged under 10 for the first time within the next year amid an aged society and record-low birthrates, government data showed.

A decade ago in August 2011, the number of people aged between 70-79 was 2.72 million, which came to 57.9 percent of those aged up to 9, at 4.69 million, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety.

In August 2021, the ratio of those in their 70s to that of those under 10 surged to 96.7 percent -- 3.7 million vs. 3.82 million.

Given that the gap between the two age groups sharply narrowed in only a year -- by 244,962 -- from 369,101 in August 2020 to 124,139 in August 2021, those in their 70s are likely to overtake those under 10 by as early as in the first quarter of 2022.
 
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
Ministry data showed that girls under 10 have already been outstripped by women in their 70s, starting from April 2020, when the figures posted 1.99 million versus 2 million. The gap had widened to 1.86 million versus 2.02 million as of last month.

With such speed, the population of those aged up to 9 will soon be the smallest age group, compared to those 10-19 and in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

Likewise, those in their 60s have been outnumbering people in their 30s since February 2021. Last month, the number of Koreans aged 60-69 far outpaced that of those aged 30-39, by 7.07 million to 6.75 million.

This put the 60-69 category in third place among the 11 age groups ranging from those under 10 to centenarians. The top two groups were people in their 50s (8.59 million) and 40s (8.19 million).

The change can be attributed to Korea’s baby boomers, born between 1955-1963, reaching their 60s.

A large portion of those in their 30s, born 1982-1991, are the children of those in their 60s. The 1980s was one of several decades when the government called for households to limit the number of children they had in the wake of the steep population increase in the 1960s-70s.

While those in their 60s also outnumbered those in their 20s at 6.72 million, the age group far outstripped those aged 10-19 at 4.73 million and those aged up to 9 at 3.82 million last month.

These figures have signaled a looming, aggravated social cost burden for elder care, amid a sliding “core” working age population in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

Meanwhile, Korea’s population decreased by 1,853 from 51.671 million in July to 51.669 million in August. It was at its lowest point since September 2016, when the figure was 51.664 million.

After peaking at 51.851 million in November 2019 -- which could possibly remain the all-time high in Korean history, at least for decades to come -- the figure continued to drop for the 21st consecutive month starting from December 2019, during which the population lost 181,711 in less than two years.

In August, Seoul took the lead in the decline as the number of residents dropped by 7,926 on-month. The capital’s population dropped to the level of that of the mid-1980s at 9.55 million.

South Gyeongsang Province placed second with a slide of 2,362 to 3.32 million, followed by Busan down 2,254 to 3.35 million. Daegu and North Jeolla Province shed 2,123 and 1,426, respectively.

While population was down in 12 of the 17 major regions of Korea last month, positive growth in Gyeonggi Province by 17,652 and Sejong by 945 somewhat offset the nationwide decrease.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)
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