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Koreans' life expectancy to reach 81 years in 2020
August 31, 2005
South Korea's overall life expectancy is expected to reach 81 years in 2020 following Japan's 84.7 years, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced on August 7, quoting a United Nations report.
According to the report, South Korea's life expectancy in 2005 is 77.9 years following Japan's 82.1 years and Italy's 79 years. Korea's life expectancy is over a year longer than the 76.2 year average of member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This trend will continue as Koreans' life expectancy is expected to reach 83.3 years in 2050 following Japan's 88.1 years, primarily because of significant improvements in health care and nutrition and a declining birth rate, the ministry said.
Along with increasing life expectancy, experts insist that concrete measures should be introduced as soon as possible to cope with the aging society. The National Statistical Office (NSO) expects that Korea will become an "aged society" by 2019 meaning people over the age of 65 will account for 14 percent of the total population. In addition, a low birthrate is making the problem worse. South Korea's birthrate fell to a record-low of 1.19 in 2003, dropping well below the rate of 2.83 of 20 years ago. The consequence is that a burgeoning number of the elderly are putting too heavy a burden on the diminishing working-age population.
Although the prolonged life expectancy is a cause for celebration since our parents are likely to live longer, experts worry about the dependency ratio - the ratio of children and people over 65 compared with the sector of the population that is of working age. If the ratio rises, it becomes harder to maintain living standards for the dependent population because of the strain on the relatively shrinking workforce.
The aging population in a context of declining labor supply can also affect economic growth. Higher taxes are needed to fund pension and health systems, to the detriment of productive investment and work effort.
Kim Dong-suk, a researcher at the state-run Korea Development Institute, expects Korea's potential economic growth could sink below 1 percent in 2040 as the nation quickly becomes an aged society with an extremely low birthrate. "I predict that the potential economic growth rate will drop from around 5 percent to 4.21 percent between 2010 and 2019, 2.91 percent in the 2020s, 1.6 percent in the 2030s and 0.74 percent in the 2040s," he said.