Insight: South Korea stares down demographic dilemma

Mon Oct 3, 2011 12:58pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Hopfner

SEOUL (Reuters) - Kim, a doctoral student in her 30s, personifies many of the qualities that make South Korea such an economic force -- relative youth, education and ambition.

The trouble -- for corporations and policymakers -- is that she is equally typical by not wanting to have children.

"I just want to live happily with my husband without having to worry about kids or making sacrifices for them," said Kim, asking to be identified only by her surname.

South Korea is not alone in facing a plummeting birth rate and rapidly aging population -- neighboring Japan and China, as well as much of Europe, face similar challenges.

But it is getting there at astonishing speed. Over 40 years, it has gone from having one of the highest birth rates in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of advanced economies to the lowest, while life expectancy has surged.

OLDER, FASTER

By 2018, 14 percent of its population will be over 65, making it officially an "aged society." That is six years sooner than Japan and more than a century before France, according to the Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI).

And by 2050 almost 40 percent of South Koreans will be senior citizens, likely the highest proportion in the world.   Continued...

 
<p>People walk on the street in central Seoul in this December 19, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/Files</p>