Korea's working population to more than halve in 50 years

Korea's working population to more than halve in 50 years

Country set to rank top in elderly dependency among OECD members

By Lee Kyung-min

Korea’s working population will more than halve over the next 50 years, vastly increasing the burden of supporting pension recipients in its fast-aging society, statistics agency data showed Thursday.

According to forecasts by Statistics Korea, the number of people aged between 15 and 64 could be slashed to 17.37 million by 2070, or 46.5 percent of the current 37.38 million. The year-on-year decrease is projected to be 360,000 in the 2020s, and 530,000 in the 2030s. Accordingly, the population total will shrink to 37 million, down over 14 million from the current 51.8 million

The rapid decline will place the country at the top of the elderly dependency list of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as measured by people aged over 65 divided by the working population. The figure is expected to stand at 46.4 percent in 2070.

The bleak assessment is fueling concerns over an earlier-than-expected depletion of the country’s social safety net, notably the National Pension Fund run by the National Pension Service. Its financial viability is questionable, since the number of pension recipients will rise significantly faster than the working population. Whether the current system can be sustained without a major overhaul is another point of contention.

Also coming under scrutiny are government policies put in place supposedly to bolster the birthrate and tackle the rapidly aging society, as defined by a special budget of 225 trillion won spent from 2006 and 2020. A taskforce with the same mandate set up in 2019 has failed to produce any tangible results with discussions on the extension of the retirement age unaddressed.

The statistics agency’s report on the country’s population estimates for the next 50 years showed that the total number will drop 60,000 every year over the next decade, down to 51.2 million by 2030 from last year’s 51.84 million. The figure is expected to plunge further to 37.66 million by 2070.

However, the drop could be as high as 170,000 over the next 10 years, in the worst-case scenario, meaning the population total will fall to 50.15 million in that decade and further to 31.53 million in 2070.

The country’s total birthrate, the average number of children a woman will choose to have throughout her childbearing years between the ages of 15 and 49 will plummet to 0.52 in 2070, down from 0.82 last year.

Korea will, the statistics agency said, see the first net decline in the total population this year, brought on by an unexpected plunge in the number of inbound foreigners amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country first experienced deaths outnumbering births in 2020, leading to a fall in the overall population total.

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