SEJONG -- South Korea saw its senior population surpass 15 percent of the total last month for the first time. Seniors are people aged 65 or over, according to standards set by the United Nations.
The number of senior citizens came to 7.8 million out of the total 51.84 million as of May, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety.
This indicates that 1 out of every 6 or 7 Koreans are aged 65 or above, which is posing social concerns over a variety of sectors such as the national pension, tax burdens, labor productivity and farming population.
Participants in a beauty pageant for women in their 50s or over pose in hanbok (Korean traditional outfit) in Seoul. The periodic event is sponsored by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. (Miz Silver Korea)
Korea is projected to have the sixth-longest lifespan in the world, with 89.1 years in 2065, while it currently stands at 14th, with an expected lifespan of 82.4 years for those born between 2015 and 2020.
“The high proportion of seniors is more critical when it comes to regional areas,” said a demography researcher in Seoul. He said the young workforce in major provinces was rapidly draining out.
Interior Ministry data showed that South Jeolla Province topped was the most aged part of the country, with 22.2 percent of people there over age 65, or 416,000 out of the total 1.87 million residents. This far exceeds the nationwide average, 15.05 percent.
North Gyeongsang Province ranked second with 20.1 percent in the percentage, followed by North Jeolla Province at 19.8 percent, Gangwon Province at 19.1 percent and South Chungcheong Province at 17.8 percent.
The nine provinces had more aged populations than the metropolitan cities, with all except Gyeonggi (12.1 percent) and Jeju (14.5 percent) above the nationwide average, 15.05 percent.
By major city, Busan was the most aged with the portion reaching 17.5 percent, or 602,000 out of its 3.42 million population. The nation’s second-largest city also outstripped its neighboring regions -- South Gyeongsang Province at 15.8 percent and Ulsan at 11 percent.
Daegu was the second-most aged city with 15 percent, trailed by Seoul at 14.7 percent, Gwangju at 13 percent, Daejeon at 12.9 percent, Incheon at 12.5 percent.
Sejong was the only area with less than 10 percent of its population over 65. Seniors accounted for 30,375 out of the city’s 325,777-strong population. Sejong was also the youngest region, as the average age of its residents was 36.8 years as of last month.
While the nationwide average was 42.3 years, regional figures were broadly proportional to the percentage of seniors.
South Jeolla Province was the oldest with 45.9, followed by North Gyeongsang with 45.3, Gangwon with 45, North Jeolla with 44.6 and Busan with 44.2.
In the case of Busan, its local government has cast mounting worries over its fastest-growing portion of the elderly among the seven major cities and slack countermeasures against the aged society.
Busan City said the rates of seniors’ participation in economic activities had stayed far below the nationwide average for more than a decade, citing a report from the Busan Social Welfare Development Institute.
The institute data also showed that the portion of Busan citizens aged 65 or over is projected to reach 30.3 percent in 2032 and 36.3 percent in 2040.
Apart from the port city, other locations including the Seoul metropolitan area has yet to be prepared for the current aged or coming super-aged society, private analysts and government officials share the view.
(Graphic by Heo Tae-seong/The Korea Herald)
“Seoul has more than 6,000 citizens aged 100 or above, and there are more than 19,000 centenarians collectively across the country,” said a researcher in Sejong.
Also citing the number of people, 222,000 aged 90-99 nationwide, he said the government-led mid- and long-term policies against the rapid demographic change is urgent.
Meanwhile, online commenters claim that the government should use taxpayers’ money for the elderly -- particularly for those residing alone -- and the underprivileged in the society, not for those jobless young generations.
Concerning the deletion worries over the national pension, a commenter said the social welfare should be pushed on the back of regular taxes. “Premiums for the national pension of salaried workers should not be exploited as taxes,” he argued.
By Kim Yon-se (email@example.com)