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[News Focus] Korea set to be superaged society within 4 years

Population decline to further elevate portion of seniors

A senior fashion show, with contestants only in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, is held at a community center in Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul in November 2018. (Seocho-gu Office)
A senior fashion show, with contestants only in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, is held at a community center in Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul in November 2018. (Seocho-gu Office)

SEJONG -- South Korea is projected to become one of eight superaged societies in the world by 2024, alongside the existing five -- Japan, Italy, Germany, Sweden and France -- and two other candidates like to ascend -- Canada and the UK.

A superaged (or post-aged or ultra-aged) society refers to a nation whose elderly population accounts for 20 percent or more of the entire population (one out of every five people), according to a stipulation by the United Nations.

The proportion of seniors, aged 65 or over, came to a fresh high, 15.8 percent in Korea as of March, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety.

The growth of their percentage is steep, given that the nation just became an aged society in July 2017, when the percentage of elderly population posted 14 percent after becoming an aging society in 2000 with the figure surpassing 7 percent.

Though Statistics Korea had forecast that the year of becoming a superaged society would be 2026 (and 2025 in its revised projection), there is a high possibility that the timing will be advanced by at least one year to 2024.

During the March 2018 to March 2019 period, Korea saw the percentage of seniors of the population climb 0.5 percentage point from 14.4 percent to 14.9 percent.

And the figure jumped by 0.9 percentage point for the next year to 15.8 percent in March 2020, according to the resident-registration data held by the Interior Ministry.

Even under the assumption that the gradient remains the same, growth of 0.9 percentage point per annum, the figures for March 2024 and March 2025 would be 19.4 percent and 20.3 percent, respectively.

There is a high possibility that the pace will accelerate in terms of the seniors’ portion in the coming four years, as the nation is recording the world’s lowest fertility rates and among the steepest growth rates in lifespan around the globe.
 
(Graphic by Han Chang-duck/The Korea Herald)
(Graphic by Han Chang-duck/The Korea Herald)

The longer lifespan is seen from the portion of Koreans aged 80 and over via the comparison of the data over the past decade.

In March 2010, the number of those in their 80s or older stood at 900,062, which was only 1.8 percent of the population. The figure rose to 1.33 million (2.5 percent) in March 2015, and to 1.92 million (3.7 percent) in March 2020.

As of March 2020, the number of those aged 80-89 tallied 1.66 million, those aged 90-99 at 239,567 and centenarians at 20,758. The three age groups have marked a drastic growth both in number and portion in the 2010s.

The situation is the same as for those in their 70s. The tally for the generation reached 3.62 million as of March 2020, compared to 3.15 million in March 2015 and 2.51 million in March 2010.

In contrast, South Korea’s entire population, which has showed meager growth over the past 10 years, has de facto entered an era of steady decline. The figure dropped for the fourth consecutive month -- as an unprecedented case -- since December 2019.

“The entire-population decline would fan the growth in the percentage of elderly people, as well as the two factors -- low fertility rates and higher life expectancy,” said a demographic researcher in Seoul. “In addition, the Korean baby boomers, born 1955-63, started turning 65 years old from this year.”

The researcher said he “does not rule out the possibility of Korea becoming a post-aged society as early as 2023,” which is faster by three years than the prediction from Statistics Korea.

Japan marked the world‘s first when it became a superaged society in 2006, whose portion of seniors -- aged 65 or over -- of the population reached 28.4 percent as of October 2019. Italy was the second in 2008, followed by Germany in 2009, Sweden in 2017 and France in 2018.

South Korea is vying to be the world’s sixth with Canada and the UK, while the US and China are expected to join the super-aged group in late 2020s and early 2030s.

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