Thursday, August 02, 2007

Reunification Demographics of North and South Korea

Reunification with South Korea is inevitable. The only question is when.

South Korea will benefit from reunification. An enormous peace dividend will be earned. Each Korea maintains an enormous army largely to balance out that of the other. Combining the two militaries will be a big task. But it will also involve a big reduction in servicemen, releasing manpower for the civilian workforce.

South Korea faces two demographic crises: it has a serious gender imbalance, particularly among younger South Koreans; and it is ageing faster than any other nation on Earth. The median age for South Korea's population is forecast to rise to 50.9 years by 2040, up from 36.8 now. And by 2050 it will be about 52 years. This means that more than half the population will be aged over 50 in a generation.

Supporting that number of older people will be an enormous drain on the economy.

Furthermore, South Korea's birth rate is way below the replacement rate. Its population is forecast to start shrinking from 2027. North Korea does not face these problems. Whereas each woman in the South gives birth to just 1.28 children, on average, the figure in the North is 2.05. This means that reunification will give South Korea a demographics rejuvenation.

The biggest instance of economic co-operation is South Korea's Gaeseong Industrial Zone in North Korea. It employs 7000 North Koreans and about 500 South Korean managers in 15 factories. The zone will employ 700,000 workers and house 2000 companies when completed in 2012. This alone will educate many North Koreans about life outside North Korea — the wealth, the choices and the opportunities.

But reunification will take a long time.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Backman, The Age]

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