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Professor Thomas Klassen: South Korea’s population targeted to be ‘most elderly’ by 2025

Professor Thomas Klassen: South Korea’s population targeted to be ‘most elderly’ by 2025

By 2050, the median age in Korea is projected to be 57 years, according to an article written by Thomas Klassen of York University’s Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. The article was published January 12, 2010 for, but was quoted in's July 29 article about Samsung's recent business decisions, some of which don't factor in  the aging Korean population.

An excerpt from Klassen's original article follows:

South Korea (henceforth Korea) faces a challenge quite distinct from any other: the world’s most rapidly ageing population. The speed of population ageing in Korea is unprecedented in human history. From a population profile that resembled a pyramid (with many younger individuals and few older individuals) in 1990, the profile is now diamond-shaped (with a large middle-aged population). In another couple of decades, the country’s population will be an inverse pyramid: few young people and many older ones.

By 2050, the median age of the population of Korea is projected to be 57 years, making it the most elderly nation in the world. In contrast, at present, Japan has the oldest median age at 43 years, while Korea’s stands at 37years.

Population ageing is not unique to Korea. Many European nations, and Japan, have faced it. However, as Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director-General of the World Health Organization, noted: “While the developed countries became rich before they became old, the developing countries will become old before they become rich.” That is the dilemma for Korea, and for other rapidly ageing nations such as China.

For Korea, things were never meant to turn out this way. Its government and people never aimed for the distinction of the world’s most rapidly ageing country. Indeed, Koreans were not supposed to stop have babies, especially since there was never a one-child policy as in China. Rather, as the economy grew and consumption increased over the past several decades, couples making their individual choices began to opt for fewer and fewer children. By the mid-1980s, the fertility rate (the average number of births per woman) dropped below the replacement rate of 2.1, and by the mid 1990s below 1.5. For nearly the past decade, it has not exceeded 1.3 giving Korea the distinction of having the lowest fertility of any country.

Klassen's complete article is available on

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer.