Population tops 50 million
Time to seek broad-based paradigm shift
Statistics Korea estimates that the country’s population will surpass 50 million on June 23. It topped 40 million in 1983.
The figure is seen as a blessing in that Korea becomes the world’s seventh country to achieve $20,000 in per capita income and a population of over 50 million. The six others to achieve the feat are the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Britain and Italy. Yet there are also concerns over the nation’s low birthrate and the rising average age of the population.
According to the statistics office, Korea’s era of 50 million will continue through 2045 after reaching a climax at 52.16 million in 2030. After that, the population will begin to decline, falling back to under 50 million, as Korea’s birthrate is the lowest in the world.
Of course, this forecast can change. In 2006, Statistics Korea predicted that Korea’s population would peak at 49.34 million in 2018 and then dwindle thereafter, but this prediction has proved wrong due to several factors.
One reason for the growth was an influx of foreigners. Between 2001 and 2005, more people left Korea than entered it. An average of 79,000 Koreans per year left the country in that period while only 38,000 foreigners came here ― a net outflow of 42,000 a year. But the trend reversed in 2006 with a growing influx of foreign workers and women who came here to marry Korean men. From 2006 to 2010, Korea saw a net inflow of 283,000 people.
Another factor was the birthrate. In 2005, the birthrate was 1.08 children per woman but the figure rose to 1.24 by 2011. The third factor was an increase in life expectancy.
That the population tops 50 million calls for the country to seek a broad-based paradigm shift. Makeshift measures such as subsidies for newborn babies won’t work any longer.
Most problematic is that the number of people aged 15 to 64, who are often called the working age population, will begin falling in 2016.
This means that the shrinking population’s adverse impact on the economy will soon be in full swing.
More than anything else, labor shortages, not job scarcity, will emerge as one of the most serious problems. The government should conduct a thorough study into why advanced countries have rushed to abolish or extend retirement ages. In particular, making the best use of female and elderly workforces must be given top priority.
To address the problem of population decline, we should open our minds to the idea of a multicultural society. Foreigners residing in Korea number about 1.4 million, accounting for 3 percent of the population. One out of three bachelors in rural areas are married to an immigrant wife and one out of 10 newborn babies are of mixed race. Now is the time to come up with bold policies to embrace migrant workers and immigrant wives in our society.