Ethnic groups in South Korea

This article is about the demographic features of the population of South Korea, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

On June 23, 2012 South Korea's population touched 50 million as the 26th country to reach the mark.[1]


Although a variety of different Asian peoples had migrated to the Korean Peninsula in past centuries, very few have remained permanently, so by 1990 both South Korea and North Korea were among the world's most ethnically homogeneous nations. The number of indigenous minorities was negligible. In South Korea, people of foreign origin, including Chinese, Japanese, Westerners, Southeast Asians, South Asians and others were a small percentage of the population whose residence was generally temporary.

Koreans tend to equate nationality or citizenship with membership in a single, homogeneous ethnic group or "race" (minjok, in Korean). A common language and culture also are viewed as important elements in Korean identity. Until recently, the idea of multiracial or multiethnic nations, like India or France, struck many Koreans as odd or even contradictory.

Regional differences

Against the background of ethnic homogeneity, however, significant regional differences exist.

Within South Korea, the most important regional difference is between the Gyeongsang region, embracing Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do provinces in the southeast, and the Jeolla region, embracing Jeollabuk-do and Jeollanam-do provinces in the southwest. The two regions, separated by the Jirisan Massif, nurture a rivalry said to reach back to the Three Kingdoms of Korea Period, which lasted from the fourth century to the seventh century A.D., when the kingdoms of Baekje and Silla struggled for control of the peninsula.

Observers noted that interregional marriages are rare, and that as of 1990 a new four-lane highway completed in 1984 between Gwangju and Daegu, the capitals of Jeollanam-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do provinces, had not been successful in promoting travel between the two areas.

There has been a communist-backed propaganda which tells that South Korea's political elite have come largely from the Gyeongsang region and they concentrated benefits of government development assistance on Gyeongsang region, but overall difference of development should be interpreted as a natural result of proximity from big harbors for trade, namely Busan, Ulsan, Masan and Pohang.


Regional stereotypes, like regional dialects, have been breaking down under the influence of centralized education, nationwide media, and the several decades of population movement since the Korean War. Stereotypes remain important, however, in the eyes of many South Koreans. For example, the people of Gyeonggi-do, surrounding Seoul, are often described as being cultured, and Chungcheong people, inhabiting the region embracing Chungcheongbuk-do and Chungcheongnam-do provinces, are thought to be mild-mannered, manifesting true yangban virtues. The people of Gangwon-do in the northeast were viewed as poor and stolid, while Koreans from the northern provinces (now in North Korea) of Pyongan, Hwanghae, and Hamgyong are perceived as being diligent and aggressive. Jeju Island is famous for its strong-minded and independent women.

Population trends

The population of South Korea showed robust growth since the republic's establishment in 1948, and then dramatically slowed down with the effects of its economic growth. In the first official census, taken in 1949, the total population of South Korea was calculated at 20,188,641 people. The 1985 census total was 40,466,577. Population growth was slow, averaging about 1.1% annually during the period from 1949 to 1955, when the population registered at 21.5 million. Growth accelerated between 1955 and 1966 to 29.2 million or an annual average of 2.8%, but declined significantly during the period 1966 to 1985 to an annual average of 1.7%. Thereafter, the annual average growth rate was estimated to be less than 1%, similar to the low growth rates of most industrialized countries and to the target figure set by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs for the 1990s. As of January 1, 1989, the population of South Korea was estimated to be approximately 42.2 million.

The proportion of the total population under fifteen years of age has risen and fallen with the growth rate. In 1955 approximately 41.2% of the population was under fifteen years of age, a percentage that rose to 43.5% in 1966 before falling to 38.3% in 1975, 34.2% in 1980, and 29.9% in 1985. In the past, the large proportion of children relative to the total population put great strains on the country's economy, particularly because substantial resources were invested in education facilities. With the slowdown in the population growth rate and a rise in the median age (from 18.7 years to 21.8 years between 1960 and 1980), the age structure of the population has begun to resemble the columnar pattern typical of developed countries, rather than the pyramidal pattern found in most parts of the Third World.

The decline in the population growth rate and in the proportion of people under fifteen years of age after 1966 reflected the success of official and unofficial birth control programs. The government of President Syngman Rhee (1948–60) was conservative in such matters. Although Christian churches initiated a family planning campaign in 1957, it was not until 1962 that the government of Park Chung Hee, alarmed at the way in which the rapidly increasing population was undermining economic growth, began a nationwide family planning program. Other factors that contributed to a slowdown in population growth included urbanization, later marriage ages for both men and women, higher education levels, a greater number of women in the labor force, and better health standards.

Public and private agencies involved in family planning included the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea, and the Korea Institute of Family Planning. In the late 1980s, their activities included distribution of free birth control devices and information, classes for women on family planning methods, and the granting of special subsidies and privileges (such as low-interest housing loans) to parents who agreed to undergo sterilization. There were 502,000 South Koreans sterilized in 1984, as compared with 426,000 in the previous year.

The 1973 Maternal and Child Health Law legalized abortion. In 1983 the government began suspending medical insurance benefits for maternal care for pregnant women with three or more children. It also denied tax deductions for education expenses to parents with two or more children.

As in China, cultural attitudes posed problems for family planning programs. A strong preference for sons—who in Korea's traditional Confucian value system are expected to care for their parents in old age and carry on the family name—means that parents with only daughters usually continued to have children until a son is born. The government encouraged married couples to have only one child. This has been a prominent theme in public service advertising, which stresses "have a single child and raise it well."

Total fertility rates (the average number of births a woman will have during her lifetime) fell from 6.1 births per female in 1960 to 4.2 in 1970, 2.8 in 1980, and 2.4 in 1984. The number of live births, recorded as 711,810 in 1978, grew to a high of 917,860 in 1982. This development stirred apprehensions among family planning experts of a new "baby boom." By 1986, however, the number of live births had declined to 806,041.

Decline in population growth continued, and between 2005 to 2010 total fertility rate for South Korean women was 1.21, one of the world's lowest according to the United Nations.[2] Fertility rate well below the replacement level of 2.1 births per female has triggered a national alarm, with dire predictions of an aging society unable to grow or support its elderly. Recent Korean governments have prioritized the issue on its agenda, promising to enact social reforms that will encourage women to have children.

The country's population increased to 46 million by the end of the twentieth century, with growth rates ranging between 0.9% and 1.2%. The population is expected to stabilize (that is, cease to grow) in the year 2023 at around 52.6 million people. In the words of Asiaweek magazine, the "stabilized tally will approximate the number of Filipinos in 1983, but squeezed into less than a third of their [the Philippines'] space."

Population settlement patterns

South Korea is one of the world's most densely populated countries, with an estimated 425 people per square kilometer in 1989—over sixteen times the average population density of the United States in the late 1980s. By comparison, China had an estimated 114 people, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) 246 people, and Japan 323 people per square kilometer in the late 1980s. Because about 70% of South Korea's land area is mountainous and the population is concentrated in the lowland areas, actual population densities were in general greater than the average. As early as 1975, it was estimated that the density of South Korea's thirty-five cities, each of which had a population of 50,000 or more inhabitants, was 3,700 people per square kilometer. Because of continued migration to urban areas, the figure was doubtless higher in the late 1980s.

In 1988 Seoul had a population density of 17,030 people per square kilometer as compared with 13,816 people per square kilometer in 1980. The second largest city, Pusan, had a density of 8,504 people per square kilometer in 1988 as compared with 7,272 people in 1980. Kyonggi Province, which surrounds the capital and contains Inch'on, the country's fourth largest city, was the most densely populated province; Kangwon Province in the northeast was the least densely populated province.

According to the government's Economic Planning Board, the population density will be 530 people per square kilometer by 2023, the year the population is expected to stabilize.

Ageing population

South Korea faces the problem of a rapidly aging population. In fact, the speed of aging in Korea is unprecedented in human history,[3] 18 years to double aging population from 7 – 14% (least number of years),[4] overtaking even Japan. Statistics support this observation, the percentage of elderly aged 65 and above, has sharply risen from 3.3% in 1955 to 10.7% in 2009.[5] The shape of its population has changed from a pyramid in the 1990s, with more young people and fewer old people, to a diamond shape in 2010, with lesser young people and a large proportion of middle-age individuals.[6]

There are several implications and issues associated with an aging population. A rapidly aging population is likely to have several negative implications on the labour force. In particular, experts predict that this might lead to a shrinking of the labour force. As an increasing proportion of people enter their 50s and 60s, they either choose to retire or are forced to retire by their companies. As such, there would be a decrease in the percentage of economically active people in the population. Also, with rapid aging, it is highly likely that there would be an imbalance in the young-old percentage of the workforce. This might lead to a lack of vibrancy and innovation in the labour force, since it is helmed mainly by the middle-age workers. Data shows that while there are fewer young people in society, the percentage of economically active population, made up of people ages 15 – 64, has gone up by 20% from 55.5% to 72.5%.[5] This shows that the labour force is indeed largely made up of middle-aged workers.

A possible consequence might be that South Korea would be a less attractive candidate for investment. Investors might decide to relocate to countries like Vietnam and China, where there is an abundance of cheaper, younger labour. If employers were to choose to maintain operations in South Korea, there is a possibility that they might incur higher costs in retraining or upgrading the skills of this group of middle-age workers. On top of that, higher healthcare costs might also be incurred [7] and the government would need to set aside more money to maintain a good healthcare system to cater to the elderly.


Like other newly industrializing economies, South Korea experienced rapid growth of urban areas caused by the migration of large numbers of people from the countryside. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Seoul, by far the largest urban settlement, had a population of about 190,000 people. There was a striking contrast with Japan, where Edo (Tokyo) had as many as 1 million inhabitants and the urban population comprised as much as 10% to 15% of the total during the Tokugawa Period (1600–1868). During the closing years of the Choson Dynasty and the first years of Japanese colonial rule, the urban population of Korea was no more than 3% of the total. After 1930, when the Japanese began industrial development on the Korean Peninsula, particularly in the northern provinces adjacent to Manchuria, the urban portion of the population began to grow, reaching 11.6% for all of Korea in 1940.

Between 1945 and 1985, the urban population of South Korea grew from 14.5% to 65.4% of the total population. In 1988 the Economic Planning Board estimated that the urban portion of the population will reach 78.3% by the end of the twentieth century. Most of this urban increase was attributable to migration rather than to natural growth of the urban population. Urban birth rates have generally been lower than the national average. The extent of urbanization in South Korea, however, is not fully revealed in these statistics. Urban population was defined in the national census as being restricted to those municipalities with 50,000 or more inhabitants. Although many settlements with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants were satellite towns of Seoul or other large cities or mining communities in northeastern Kangwon Province, which would be considered urban in terms of the living conditions and occupations of the inhabitants, they still were officially classified as rural.

The dislocation caused by the Korean War accounted for the rapid increase in urban population during the early 1950s. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them from North Korea, streamed into the cities. During the post-Korean War period, rural people left their ancestral villages in search of greater economic and educational opportunities in the cities. By the late 1960s, migration had become a serious problem, not only because cities were terribly overcrowded, but also because the rural areas were losing the most youthful and productive members of their labor force.

In 1970, the Park Chung Hee government launched the Saemaul undong (New Community Movement) as a rural reconstruction and self-help movement to improve economic conditions in the villages, close the wide gap in income between rural and urban areas, and stem urban migration—as well as to build a political base. Despite a huge amount of government sponsored publicity, especially during the Park era, it was not clear by the late 1980s that the Saemaul undong had achieved its objectives. By that time many, if not most, farming and fishing villages consisted of older persons; relatively few able-bodied men and women remained to work in the fields or to fish. This trend was apparent in government statistics for the 1986-87 period: the proportion of people fifty years old or older living in farming communities grew from 28.7% in 1986 to 30.6% in 1987, while the number of people in their twenties living in farming communities declined from 11.3% to 10.8%. The nationwide percentages for people fifty years old or older and in their twenties were, in 1986, 14.9% and 20.2%, respectively (see Agriculture, ch. 3).

In 1985 the largest cities were Seoul (9,645,932 inhabitants), Busan (3,516,807), Daegu (2,030,672), Incheon (1,387,491), Gwangju (906,129), and Daejeon (866,695). According to government statistics, the population of Seoul, one of the world's largest cities, surpassed 10 million people in late 1988. Seoul's average annual population growth rate during the late 1980s was more than 3%. Two-thirds of this growth was attributable to migration rather than to natural increase. Surveys revealed that "new employment or seeking a new job," "job transfer," and "business" were major reasons given by new immigrants for coming to the capital. Other factors cited by immigrants included "education" and "a more convenient area to live."

To alleviate overcrowding in Seoul's downtown area, the city government drew up a master plan in the mid-1980s that envisioned the development of four "core zones" by 2000: the original downtown area, Yongdongpo-Yeouido, Yongdong, and Jamsil. Satellite towns also would be established or expanded. In the late 1980s, statistics revealed that the daytime or commuter population of downtown Seoul was as much as six times the officially registered population. If the master plan is successful, many commuters will travel to work in a core area nearer their homes, and the downtown area's daytime population will decrease. Many government ministries have been moved out of Seoul, and the army, navy, and air force headquarters have been relocated to Daejeon.

In 1985 the population of Seoul constituted 23.8% of the national total. Provincial cities, however, experienced equal and, in many cases, greater expansion than the capital. Growth was particularly spectacular in the southeastern coastal region, which encompasses the port cities of Pusan, Masan, Yosu, Chinhae, Ulsan, and Pohang. Census figures show that Ulsan's population increased eighteenfold, growing from 30,000 to 551,300 inhabitants between 1960 and 1985. With the exception of Yosu, all of these cities are in South Kyongsang Province, a region that has been an especially favored recipient of government development projects. By comparison, the population of Kwangju, capital of South Cholla Province, increased less than threefold between 1960 and 1985, growing from 315,000 to 906,129 inhabitants.

Rapid urban growth has brought familiar problems to developed and developing countries alike. The construction of large numbers of high-rise apartment complexes in Seoul and other large cities alleviated housing shortages to some extent. But it also imposed hardship on the tens of thousands of people who were obliged to relocate from their old neighborhoods because they could not afford the rents in the new buildings. In the late 1980s, squatter areas consisting of one-story shacks still existed in some parts of Seoul. Housing for all but the wealthiest was generally cramped. The concentration of factories in urban areas, the rapid growth of motorized traffic, and the widespread use of coal for heating during the severe winter months caused dangerous levels of air and water pollution, issues that still persist today even after years of environmentally friendly policies.

Vital statistics

UN estimates[8]

Period Live births per year Deaths per year Natural change per year CBR1 CDR1 NC1 TFR1 IMR1
1950-1955 722 000 331 000 391 000 35.8 16.4 19.4 5.05 138.0
1955-1960 1 049 000 356 000 693 000 45.4 15.4 30.0 6.33 114.4
1960-1965 1 067 000 347 000 720 000 39.9 13.0 27.0 5.63 89.7
1965-1970 985 000 298 000 687 000 32.9 9.9 23.0 4.71 64.2
1970-1975 1 004 000 259 000 746 000 30.4 7.8 22.5 4.28 38.1
1975-1980 833 000 253 000 581 000 23.1 7.0 16.1 2.92 33.2
1980-1985 795 000 248 000 547 000 20.4 6.4 14.0 2.23 24.6
1985-1990 647 000 239 000 407 000 15.5 5.7 9.8 1.60 14.9
1990-1995 702 000 239 000 463 000 16.0 5.5 10.6 1.70 9.7
1995-2000 615 000 247 000 368 000 13.6 5.5 8.1 1.51 6.6
2000-2005 476 000 245 000 231 000 10.2 5.3 5.0 1.22 5.3
2005-2010 477 000 243 000 234 000 10.0 5.1 4.9 1.29 3.8
1 CBR = crude birth rate (per 1000); CDR = crude death rate (per 1000); NC = natural change (per 1000); TFR = total fertility rate (number of children per woman); IMR = infant mortality rate per 1000 births

Registered births and deaths[9]

Average population Live births Deaths Natural change Crude birth rate (per 1000) Crude death rate (per 1000) Natural change (per 1000) Total fertility rate (TFR)
1970 32 240 827 1 006 645 258 589 748 056 31.2 8.0 23.2 4.53
1971 32 882 704 1 024 773 237 528 787 245 31.2 7.2 23.9 4.54
1972 33 505 406 952 780 210 071 742 709 28.4 6.3 22.2 4.12
1973 34 103 149 965 521 267 460 698 061 28.3 7.8 20.5 4.07
1974 34 692 266 922 823 248 807 674 016 26.6 7.2 19.4 3.77
1975 35 280 725 874 030 270 657 603 373 24.8 7.7 17.1 3.43
1976 35 848 523 796 331 266 857 529 474 22.2 7.4 14.8 3.00
1977 36 411 795 825 339 249 254 576 085 22.7 6.8 15.8 2.99
1978 36 969 185 750 728 252 298 498 430 20.3 6.8 13.5 2.64
1979 37 534 236 862 669 239 986 622 683 23.0 6.4 16.6 2.90
1980 38 123 775 862 835 277 284 585 551 22.6 7.3 15.4 2.82
1981 38 723 248 867 409 237 481 629 928 22.4 6.1 16.3 2.57
1982 39 326 352 848 312 245 767 602 545 21.6 6.2 15.3 2.39
1983 39 910 403 769 155 254 563 514 592 19.3 6.4 12.9 2.06
1984 40 405 956 674 793 236 445 438 348 16.7 5.9 10.8 1.74
1985 40 805 744 655 489 240 418 415 071 16.1 5.9 10.2 1.66
1986 41 213 674 636 019 239 256 396 763 15.4 5.8 9.6 1.58
1987 41 621 690 623 831 243 504 380 327 15.0 5.9 9.1 1.53
1988 42 031 247 633 092 235 779 397 313 15.1 5.6 9.5 1.55
1989 42 449 038 639 431 236 818 402 613 15.1 5.6 9.5 1.56
1990 42 869 283 649 738 241 616 408 122 15.2 5.6 9.5 1.57
1991 43 295 704 709 275 242 270 467 005 16.4 5.6 10.8 1.71
1992 43 747 962 730 678 236 162 494 516 16.7 5.4 11.3 1.76
1993 44 194 628 715 826 234 257 481 569 16.0 5.2 10.8 1.654
1994 44 641 540 721 185 242 439 478 746 16.0 5.4 10.6 1.656
1995 45 092 991 715 020 242 838 472 182 15.7 5.3 10.3 1.634
1996 45 524 681 691 226 241 149 450 077 15.0 5.2 9.8 1.574
1997 45 953 580 668 344 241 943 426 401 14.4 5.2 9.2 1.520
1998 46 286 503 634 790 243 193 391 597 13.6 5.2 8.4 1.448
1999 46 616 677 614 233 245 364 368 869 13.0 5.2 7.8 1.410
2000 47 008 111 634 501 246 163 388 838 13.3 5.2 8.2 1.467
2001 47 357 362 554 895 241 521 313 374 11.6 5.0 6.5 1.297
2002 47 622 179 492 111 245 317 246 794 10.2 5.1 5.1 1.166
2003 47 859 311 490 543 244 506 246 037 10.2 5.1 5.1 1.180
2004 48 039 415 472 761 244 217 228 544 9.8 5.0 4.7 1.154
2005 48 138 077 435 031 243 883 191 148 8.9 5.0 3.9 1.076
2006 48 371 946 448 153 242 266 205 887 9.2 5.0 4.2 1.123
2007 48 597 652 493 189 244 874 248 315 10.0 5.0 5.1 1.250
2008 48 948 698 465 892 246 113 219 779 9.4 5.0 4.4 1.192
2009 49 182 038 444 849 246 942 197 907 9.0 5.0 4.0 1.149
2010 49 410 366 470 171 255 405 214 766 9.4 5.1 4.3 1.226
2011 49 779 440 471 265 257 396 213 869 9.4 5.1 4.3 1.244
2012 50 004 441 484 550 267 221 217 329 9.6 5.3 4.3 1.297

Ethnic groups

South Korea is a relatively homogeneous society with absolute majority of the population of Korean ethnicity. However, with its emergence as an economic powerhouse, opportunities for foreign immigrants increased and in 2007 the number of foreign citizens resident in South Korea passed the million mark for the first time in history.[10] 440,000 of them came from China, with more than half of them being ethnic Koreans of Chinese citizenship. The next largest group was from the United States with 117,000 residents or 12%, excluding the American troops stationed in the country. Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other countries followed.

Chinese immigration to Korea has had a long history, with an estimated 120,000 ethnic Chinese residents in South Korea around 1970. However, due to economic restrictions by Park Jung-hee's military dictatorship, the number fell to around 21,000. In a 10-year period starting in the late 1990s, the number of Chinese in Korea recovered and far surpassed its previous figure. Estimates vary, with some counting more than 1,000,000 Chinese citizens living in South Korea as permanent residents or illegal immigrants, including Joseonjok (조선족/朝鮮族, ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship) and Han Chinese.[11] There is a large Chinese community in Seoul's southwestern area (Daerim/Namguro) and a smaller but established community in Seongnam. This community, known as Hwagyo (화교, 華僑) by the Koreans, distrusts ordinary Koreans and tend to avoid those unfamiliar to them.

There are migrant workers from Southeast Asia and increasingly from Central Asia (notably Uzbekistan, many of them ethnic Koreans from there, and Mongolia), and in the main cities, particularly Seoul, there is a growing number of foreigners related to business and education. The number of marriages between Koreans and foreigners has risen steadily in the past few years. In 2005, 14% of all marriages in South Korea were marriages to foreigners (about 26,000 marriages); most were Korean men marrying other Asians, with Joseonjok brides being the most popular and common. Korean men in age brackets up to their 40s outnumber slightly younger Korean women by usually about 10-15%, both due to a high sex ratio and the drop in the birth rate since the 1960s, leading to a demand for foreign wives. Many Korean agencies encourage 'international' marriages to ethnic Koreans living in China, Han Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Thai women, adding a new degree of complexity to the issue of ethnicity.[12] However that percentage has fallen steadily since 2005, with "international marriages" making up 10% of marriages in South Korea. These marriages are often short-term as the divorce rate has skyrocketed between Koreans and Southeast Asian women, and divorces between such pairings now make up more than 40% of South Korea's total divorce rate. There have been reports of scam marriages between Korean men and Southeast Asian women, where Korean men are scammed into the mail-order bride industry. This corrupted industry has yet to be banned as the Korean government has not responded to this problem. The Cambodian and Filipino governments have banned their women from marrying Korean men after the murdering of a Cambodian bride by her Korean husband. Foreign brides often face harsh and often violent treatment in Korea. Cultural and language gaps, as well as Korean prejudice against foreigners, often make these mixed marriages difficult.

The number of expatriate English teachers hailing from English-speaking nations has increased from less than 1,000 in 1988 to over 20,000 since 2002.[13]

There are also some 30,000+ United States military personnel and civilian employees throughout the country, an increasing number of whom (as of 2010) are also accompanied by family members.


The Korean language is spoken by the vast majority of the population. English is widely taught in primary school, middle school and high school, and continues to be taught in higher education. The Japanese language, a legacy of the Japanese colonial rule of Korea and an official language until 1945, is not used but has given some loan words to the Korean language, especially for the older generation.


CIA World Factbook demographic statistics

The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise indicated.[14]

Year Population Growth rate Age structure
2007 49,044,790 0.578%
  • 0–14 years: 18.3% (male 4,714,103/female 4,262,873)
  • 15–64 years: 72.1% (male 18,004,719/female 17,346,594)
  • 65 years and over: 9.6% (male 1,921,803/female 2,794,698)
2006 48,846,823 0.58%
  • 0–14 years: 18.9% (male 4,844,083/female 4,368,139)
  • 15–64 years: 71.8% (male 17,886,148/female 17,250,862)
  • 65 years and over: 9.2% (male 1,818,677/female 2,678,914)

Age structure

  • 0–14 years: 15.7% (male 3,980,541/female 3,650,631)
  • 15–64 years: 72.9% (male 18,151,023/female 17,400,809)
  • 65 years and over: 11.4% (male 2,259,621/female 3,312,032) (2011 est.)

Sex ratio

  • at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
  • under 15 years: 1.09 male(s)/female
  • 15–64 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
  • 65 years and over: 0.69 male(s)/female
  • total population: 1.00 male(s)/female (2012 est.)

Life expectancy

  • total population: 79.3 years
  • male: 76.1 years
  • female: 82.7 years (2012 est.)


  • Definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 97.9%
  • male: 99.2%
  • female: 96.6% (2002)

Koreans living overseas

Large-scale emigration from Korea began around 1904 and continued until the end of World War II. During the Korea under Japanese rule period, many Koreans emigrated to Manchuria (present-day China's northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang), other parts of China, the Soviet Union, Hawaii, and the continental United States.

Most emigrated for economic reasons; employment opportunities were scarce, and many Korean farmers lost their land after the Japanese introduced a system of land registration and private land tenure, imposed higher land taxes, and promoted the growth of an absentee landlord class charging exorbitant rents. Koreans from the northern provinces of Korea went mainly to Manchuria, China, and Siberia. Many people from the southern provinces went to Japan. Koreans were conscripted into Japanese labor battalions or the Japanese army, especially during World War II. In the 1940-44 period, nearly 2 million Koreans lived in Japan, 1.4 million in Manchuria, 600,000 in Siberia, and 130,000 in China. An estimated 40,000 Koreans were scattered among other countries. At the end of World War II, approximately 2 million Koreans were repatriated from Japan and Manchuria.

More than 4 million ethnic Koreans lived outside the peninsula during the early 1980s. The largest group, about 1.7 million people, lived in China, the descendants of the Korean farmers who had left the country during the Japanese occupation. Most had assumed Chinese citizenship. The Soviet Union had about 430,000 ethnic Koreans. One observer noted that Koreans had been so successful in running collective farms in Soviet Central Asia that being Korean was often associated by other Soviets with being rich.

By contrast, many of Japan's approximately 700,000 Koreans had below-average standards of living. This situation occurred partly because of discrimination by the Japanese majority and partly because a large number of resident Koreans, loyal to the North Korean regime of Kim Il Sung, preferred to remain separate from and hostile to the Japanese mainstream. The pro-North Korea Chongryon (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) initially was more successful than the pro-South Korea Mindan (Association for Korean Residents in Japan) in attracting adherents among residents in Japan. Since diplomatic relations were established between Seoul and Tokyo in 1965, however, the South Korean government has taken an active role in promoting the interests of their residents in Japan in negotiations with the Japanese government. It also has provided subsidies to Korean schools in Japan and other community activities.

By the end of 1988 there were over 2 million South Korean overseas residents. North America was the preferred destination, as the choice of over 1.2 million. Korean immigrants in the United States and Canada gained a reputation for hard work and economic success. South Koreans also were overseas residents of Australia (100,000), Central and South America (45,000), the Middle East (12,000), Western Europe (40,000), New Zealand (30,000), other Asian countries (27,000), and Africa (25,000). A limited number of South Korean government-sponsored migrants settled in Chile, Argentina, and other Latin American countries.

Because of South Korea's rapid economic expansion, an increasing number of its citizens reside abroad on a temporary basis as business executives, technical personnel, foreign students, and construction workers. A large number of overseas South Koreans had migrated back to South Korea primarily because of the much improved economic conditions and the difficulties in adjusting to living abroad.

See also


External links

  • Korean Statistical Information System
  • South Korea: Balancing Labor Demand with Strict Controls, Park Young-bum, Migration Information Source, December 2004.
  • HelpAge International
  • HelpAge Korea (in Korean)
pt:Coreia do Sul#Demografia
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