Friday, July 31, 2009
Development pressure cooker
Left Image: Road infrastructure intersects with the beauty of the South Korean landscape.
Right image: Seoul from the top of the Samsung building.
Seoul, South Korea: N: 37º 01' E: 126º 36'
The unique demography of South Korea
It is a remarkable that a country that was totally devastated 50 years ago following the Korean War is now a bustling nation developing at an unprecedented rate. This development has been particularly noteworthy over the past 30 years with South Korea regularly appearing near the top of many of the important development indicators. In the last post the nature and quality of the education sector was highlighted. In this entry I want to focus on the fascinating demographic impact of the compressed rapid development of the Korean economy and society. During our visit we were frequently made aware of Korea's rating on the world stage and how the country intends to continue to develop and expand as a force in the economic world. The economy of South Korea is a highly developed free-market economy that is the fourth largest in Asia and 15th largest in the world. South Koreans enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and have a high life expectancy and a high level of economic freedom. South Korea has one of the smallest gaps between the rich and the poor in Asia. South Korea boasts the world's highest broadband internet access per capita. In 2007, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked South Korea's IT Industry Competitiveness among the top three in the world. South Korea's economy relies heavily on exports and it is among the world's top exporters. It is home to many well known global conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai-Kia, LG and SK. In 2007, the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group became Asia's second largest car company and one of the top five automakers in the world. Who would have believed in 1990 that Samsung would overtake Sony as an economic operator.
What I wish to focus on in this blog are the ramifications of such development for Korean society. Such ramifications are evidenced in demographic terms when we look at birth rates, age-sex ratios, urbanisation, homogeneity of the population, religious observance and liberalism. The demographic statistics listed below are not remarkable in themselves but what is unique is how rapidly South Korea has demographically changed since 1980 in particular. As a demographic case study it is unique.
Demographic changes over the past 30 years
In 2009 South Korea has:
* a Total Fertility rate of only 1.08 (was 6.2 in 1960)
* an ageing population with 9.1% of the population over 65, projected to be 38.2% by 2050 (The % of the population over 65 was only 2.9% in 1960). South Korea has the most rapidly ageing population in the world.
* Unless a massive immigration program is launched in South Korea, the population will decline to 42.35 million by 2050 (presently the population is 48.3 million)
* an agricultural/fishing workforce of 7.9% (81.6% in 1958)
* a manufacturing and mining workforce of 17.2% (4.6% in 1960)
* a commerce and services workforce of 74.9% (13.8% in 1960)
* a life expectancy of 86.02 (only 62.33 in 1971)
* an increasing imbalance between males and females. 108 males to every 100 females.
* 46.9% of its population saying that they have no religion, 22.8% Buddhist. 18.3 Protestant and 18.3 Catholic. Of these only Catholicism is growing significantly.
* the highest % of high school graduates in the world (in 2009 it is 80% but in late 1990's it was only 40%)
* Labour shortage is inevitable because of the rapidly ageing population and the decreasing size of the economic active population (15-64 years old).
* a GDP/capita of US$20,000 (in 1960 was $60)
So what does this all mean for the South Korea of the future? Such a question is a great basis for a case study in a geography class. The answers are unknown but many questions can be asked and explored.
* Will the sexual imbalance be corrected by the importing of brides. If so, what will be the impact on this homogeneous society.
* How will the welfare and health infrastructure cope with the ageing population?
* With increased urbanisation how will the cities adapt and be sustainable?
* In such a traditional society what will be the impact of non-religious identification and materialistic society.
* How will South Korean society deal with diminishing population growth?
* Will there continue to be well paid jobs for the educated to realise their economic dreams.
* Will South Korea be able to maintain its manufacturing competitiveness against the industrial giant of China. If not, how can South Korea maintain it standard of living into the future.
* Will South Korea be able to maintain it liberal democracy and economic miracle with the growing demographic pressures of an ageing, low growth and sexually imbalanced population.
In short, is the economic miracle of South Korea sustainable and is the society created in such a pressure cooker about to handle the heat?
Again, the case study of South Korea has the potential to ask more questions than provide answers for the geographer.