[News Focus] 2020 to mark 1st year of population decline
The historic peak could be 51.851 million in Nov. 2019
Published : Dec 3, 2020 - 15:59
Updated : Dec 3, 2020 - 16:05
A medical staff member conducts anti-cholera injections in North Gyeongsang Province in 1972. Since 1962, policymakers had been demanding citizens’ active birth control in the wake of a record-breaking population growth between the mid-1950s and 1960s. (National Archives of Korea)

SEJONG -- It is almost certain that South Korea’s yearly population will mark its first decline in 2020 since the nation started compiling such data, given the unprecedented downhill phase for the first 11 months of the year.

According to the Ministry of Interior and Safety, Korea saw its population fall by 3,714 (3,052 for men and 662 for women) in November on-month to post 51.838 million.

Of the past 11 months, the nation recorded negative growth in demographics data for eight months and positive for three -- July, August and September.

Collectively, minus 17,937 for the eight negative months and 2,378 for the three positive months have come to minus 15,559 so far this year. There is a low possibility that the figure will switch to positive terrain for on-year growth by Dec. 31.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

There has been no official negative growth on the basis of yearly population for about six decades since the mid-1950s. Likewise, based on the resident registration-reflected figures since 1992, the figure has also continued to climb -- from 44.503 million in 1992 to 51.849 million in 2019.

On a monthly basis, the population peaked at 51.851 million in November 2019, while figures for October 2019 and December 2019 were 51.85 million and 51.849 million, respectively.

“Despite the continuous fall for the men’s population since August 2019, positive growth for figures for women usually somewhat offset the decline earlier this year,” said a researcher in demography. “But even the female population dropped for the second consecutive month (by 1,148 combined for October and November).”

Among the 17 major cities and provinces, Seoul topped the list, as the figure fell by 9,388 on-month to post 9.67 million as of November. The capital’s population, turning downhill in the 2010s, is estimated to be set at the level of the mid-1980s.

Daegu ranked second with minus 2,312, followed by Busan with minus 2,084, South Gyeongsang Province with minus 1,768, Daejeon with minus 1,663, Ulsan with 1,236, Gwangju with minus 1,001 and North Jeolla Province with minus 733.

Alongside the world’s lowest fertility rate, under 1.0 per woman -- the core factor for the nationwide fall -- many households in Seoul have been in a rush to move to neighboring Gyeonggi Province and Incheon amid skyrocketing apartment prices.

Recently, more and more Daejeon citizens are relocating to the neighboring administrative city, Sejong.

While 10 areas posted negative growth, seven others, including Gyeonggi Province, Incheon, Sejong and Jeju Province, saw the tally for residents rise in the month.

Korea renewed an all-time low in the number of births -- 21,043 last month. The figure contrasts with 34,847, posted five years earlier in November 2015 and 43,912 a decade earlier in November 2010.

The number of births was outstripped by deaths: 21,043 vs. 25,997. While the gap between the two was 4,954, citizenship changes (Koreans renouncing their citizenship and foreigners acquiring Korean citizenship) and the long-term resident status of Koreans overseas and foreign nationals here are estimated to have offset the population decrease somewhat, reducing it to 3,714.

A noteworthy point is that the number of children, aged under 10, fell below the 4 million mark in November to record 3.98 million. This is similar to the figure, 3.69 million, for those in their 70s, and far fell short of 6.7 million for those in their 60s.

South Korea, already an aged society, is headed to becoming a superaged society, as data for the age brackets shows.

The number of those in their 50s accounted for the largest portion with 8.65 million, trailed by those in their 40s at 8.3 million. In contrast, those aged 10-19 stayed at 4.8 million.

The tally for those aged 80 or older is poised to top 2 million, coming to 1.99 million -- 1.72 million for those in their 80s, 251,328 for those in their 90s and 21,774 for centenarians.

Meanwhile, data held by Statistics Korea forecast that the nation’s population would fall below 40 million to 39.79 million in 2066, which could be similar to the level in 1980.

By Kim Yon-se (

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