This photo shows a village in the Gamcheon-dong area of Busan, which is attracting more and more local and inbound tourists. The nation’s second-most-populous city posted the largest on-month population decline among eight major cities in January, having lost 2,022 people. (Korea Tourism Organization)
SEJONG -- South Korea may have already entered the era of population decline, as the official government figure fell for the second consecutive month.
According to data from the Ministry of Interior and Safety, Korea’s population posted 51.847 million in January 2020, down 2,352 from 51.849 million in December 2019.
In particular, the female population dropped for the first time in history -- by 399 people -- since the government started compiling data. The figure for men and boys dropped by 1,953 in January, having fallen for the sixth consecutive month.
In December 2019 the population dropped by 1,566 -- minus 1,788 for men and plus 222 for women -- after peaking at 51.851 million in November. This marked the first time that the population slid for two consecutive months, with a collective net loss of 3,918 people for December and January.
Previously, Korea had seen negative population growth only twice, in March 2008 and again in April 2009. And for a decade between May 2009 and November 2019, the population continually increased on-month, with the exception of several dips in the male population.
The monthly data is based on figures for births, deaths and changes in citizenship.
“Though some argue that the real demographic changes could differ from the official data, it is irrefutable that the population is decreasing (starting from December 2019) on the basis of resident registration,” said a government official in Sejong.
He cited figures that showed population growth continued to slow during the second half of 2019 -- plus 2,976 in July, 1,926 in August, 1,715 in September, 1,452 in October and 722 in November.
“And the point is that the pace of the decline has increased, compared with December (from minus 1,566 in December 2019 to minus 2,352 in January 2020),” he said.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
Among the 17 major areas (eight cities and nine provinces), 13 (five cities and eight provinces) recorded lower population figures last month, the Interior Ministry data showed.
South Jeolla Province topped the list at minus 4,033, followed by North Gyeongsang Province at minus 3,328, Busan at minus 2,022, North Jeolla Province at minus 1,615 and Daegu at minus 1,543.
An unforeseen point was that Seoul, which had seen a steady decline in its population since 2011, saw the number of its residents increase by 4,402 to 9.73 million last month.
While Sejong, the fastest-growing city, reported an increase of 1,753 to 342,000, Gyeonggi was the only province that saw its population increase. It gained 10,702 residents to record 13.25 million.
The number of deaths outstripped the number of births by 28,067 vs. 24,693. While the disparity between the two was 3,374, citizenship changes -- that is, Koreans renouncing their citizenship and foreigners acquiring Korean citizenship -- offset the population decline somewhat, for a total decline of 2,352 in January.
Korea’s fertility rate is the lowest in the world, 0.88 as of the third quarter of 2019. An age breakdown of the population reveals the extent to which the population is aging.
Among Koreans aged between zero and 69, those under age 10 accounted for the lowest number last month with 4.14 million, and those aged 10-19 were second-lowest with 4.94 million.
In sharp contrast, the number of those in their 50s stood at 8.66 million, those in their 40s at 8.38 million, those in their 30s at 7.04 million and those in their 60s at 6.34 million.
Further, Koreans aged 70 or over tallied 5.5 million, outnumbering people in each of the two youngest age brackets -- that is, Koreans aged zero to 9 and 10-19.
The youth population, people aged zero to 14, made up 12.4 percent of the overall population in January, having stood at 16.5 percent a decade earlier in January 2010.
Meanwhile, the country’s female residents outnumbered its male residents by about 120,000, for a disparity of 25.98 million vs. 25.86 million across the nation.
Seoul has the lowest sex ratio in the nation, with 95 men for every 100 women. Next lowest are Busan with 96, Daegu and Gwangju with 98, and Sejong and North Jeolla Province with 99. In contrast, Ulsan posted the highest sex ratio, 106, and South Chungcheong Province the second-highest, 104.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org)