By Lee Hyo-sik
Workers aged 65 or above accounted for 11.2 percent of the total workforce last year, up from 10.8 percent in 2006 and 5.9 percent in 1985.
The number of senior citizens in the labor market has increased 75 percent over the past decade as more old people choose to work longer in line with rising life expectancy. The ratio of workers 65 or older in the total workforce has doubled in two decades.
According to the National Statistical Office (NSO) Sunday, the number of senior workers reached 1.52 million last year, up 75.1 percent from 869,000 in 1997, amid a rapidly aging population.
The number of Koreans aged over 65 increased by 66 percent to 4.87 million in 2007 from 10 years ago as people live longer on better healthcare and nutrition. South Koreans' average life expectancy rose to 79.2 years in 2006 from 78.6 years in 2005, with women outliving men by 6.6 years, according to the statistical office.
``Amid a rapidly aging population and low birthrates, the number of senior citizens has increased over the years, and their social and economic roles have expanded. As Korea's population is projected to become even grayer in coming years, the country needs to introduce a range of measures to make full use of older workers to boost the economy,'' an NSO official said.
Local companies increasingly prefer to hire workers on an irregular and temporary basis with little job security and lower wages to meet their manpower demand. Older workers who have already retired from previous jobs are willing to accept the lower-paying jobs.
But the majority of younger workers, including college graduates, are looking for regular work. But as companies are reluctant to hire them, few have succeeded in landing jobs, resulting in a smaller number of younger workers.
In December, the jobless rate for those aged 15 to 29 stood at 7.3 percent, substantially higher than the overall unemployment rate of 3.1 percent.