The Straits Times, Jan 21, 2005
SEOUL - FOUR in 10 South Koreans will be over 65 years old in 2050. With its people's longer life span and an extremely low birth rate, South Korea is set to surpass Japan as the most aged society in the world.
In its latest population report based on United Nations data, South Korea's National Statistical Office (NSO) forecast that the nation's elderly people - aged over 65 - will account for as much as 37.3 per cent of the population in 2050, the Korea Times reported. The estimated figure is the highest in the world. A nation is considered an ageing society when those over 65 years old make up at least 7 per cent of the population, and an aged society when the rate reaches 14 per cent.
'The anticipated acceleration of the ageing population is mainly due to a prolonged life span led by advances in medical treatment as well as low birth rates triggered by young couples putting off having children,' NSO economist Kim Dong Hoi said. 'Currently, those in their 30s and 40s make up the bulk of the Korean population, but many of them are not married and don't have children. 'When these people reach the age of beyond 65, the nation will face a severe imbalance in population composition.' Even before 2050, the NSO said, the nation is expected to become a silver society, given the current greying trend.
South Koreans over the age of 65 will account for 14 per cent of the population by 2018 and this is expected to rise to 20 per cent by 2026. The UN predicted Japan will see its aged population rise to the second-highest in the world with 36.5 per cent in 2050. It is followed by Spain with 35 per cent, Italy 34.4 per cent and the Netherlands 33.2 per cent. The NSO said South Korea's overall population, which stood at 48.29 million at the end of last year, will peak at 49.95 million in 2020 and drop to 42.34 million in 2050. Experts are concerned that if the ageing trend continues, the nation's economic growth potential will be severely eroded in the coming years. They suggest that the government draw up long-term solutions to the problems by reforming the pension system and introducing policies that encourage childbirth.