By Lee Hyo-sik
South Korea will become the most aged society among advanced economies in 2050, with nearly four out of every 10 Koreans being aged 65 or over due to low birthrates and the rapidly aging population.
The nation's population is expected to begin declining from 2018 and by 2050, there will be 6.41 million fewer people in the country than now.
According to the National Statistical Office (NSO) Friday, people over 65 years of age will account for 38.2 percent of Korea's population in 2050, making it the most aged society among the 30 member economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The nation currently ranks 27th in the population-aging index among the OECD countries, with 11 percent of its population aged 65 or older. Japan tops the list with 22.6 percent, followed by Germany with 20.5 percent and Italy with 20.4 percent.
But Asia's fourth largest economy is projected outpace Japan (37.8 percent), Italy (33.3 percent) and Germany (32.5 percent) by 2050. Korea's median age will increase to 56.7 years then from the current 37.3 years, with the average Korean expected to live for 79.1 years, higher than the world average of 67.6 years.
With more senior citizens and fewer babies here, workers aged 15-64 will have to support more elderly. Currently, every 100 Korean workers provide for 15 senior citizens, lower than the average 24 among OECD member countries. But 100 employees will have to look after 72 in 2050, much higher than the predicted OECD average of 45.
With Korean women having fewer babies, the country's population is projected to shrink by 13.1 percent, or 6.41 million, to 42.34 million in 2050 from this year. Currently, it is the 26th most populous nation in the world but its ranking is expected to fall to 46th in 40 years time.
Among 35 countries projected to lose citizens during the 2009 to 2050 period, Korea's population will decline at the fourth steepest pace. Japan's population is forecast to drop 20.1 percent over the next 40 years, followed by Poland with 15.9 percent and Germany, 14.2 percent.
Korea's population decrease is largely attributable to the world's lowest birthrate. The nation's birthrate, or the average number of babies expected per woman aged 15-49, is projected to stand at 1.13 during the 2005 to 2010 period, lower than the OECD average of 1.64.
``Korea's rapid population aging, paired with a low birthrate, is weakening its economic vitality. It will dampen domestic consumption and create a labor shortage, leading to an era of low economic growth, unless the nation takes drastic steps to raise the birthrate, improve the use of public resources and encourage more women and senior citizens to participate in economic activities,'' an NSO official said.
He said the government should nurture new growth engines, shift the nation's economic structure to be more efficient and less labor-intensive, and bring in more foreign workers to achieve sustainable expansion, adding the public and private sectors should join hands to increase the birthrate and encourage more women to participate in the economy.
Meanwhile, the world population will likely reach 9.15 billion in 2050 from the current 6.83 billion. India is expected to outpace China and become the world's most populous nation, with its population jumping to 1.61 billion from 1.12 billion.