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Thoughts on Korea's Aging Society and the Public Retirement System

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  • Economics
  • Medicine
  • Political Science


The most distinctive feature of Korea's population distribution is the fact that the number of its senior citizens is advancing faster than in any other country-even more so than in Japan, in fact, where the phenomenon has been most commonly remarked. Moreover, 2004 statistics indicate that the average number of children per woman of childbearing age in Korea is a mere 1.16, the lowest birthrate in the world. Clearly, Korea's population distribution is undergoing significant changes. On the one hand, with the massive injection of public funds into the Korean economy as part of the process of reorganizing business and the banking system after the currency crisis of 1997, large-scale demands for expansion of the social security net emerged, and this spilled over into the already struggling economy. Additionally, government stimulus packages aimed at overcoming the recent slowdown in economic growth, worsening economic deficits caused by increases in labor and welfare needs, and the accumulating national debt, also threaten the overall stability of the economy. Amidst this situation, the rapidly increasing elderly population exerts considerable influence on the social welfare system, from the decrease in those of childbearing age to increased needs for preventive health care, medical treatment and welfare services, to say nothing of aggravated income tax distributions. Needless to say, the security of resources for the expansion and maintenance of public health, aid, and welfare services is a particularly crucial subject. In the present essay, I propose to consider how the aging of Korean society has affected our social welfare system. In Section One, I consider the pace at which the aging of society has progressed, and how future population distributions will look. I also analyze dropping birthrates and extended life expectancies as one result of the aging of society. In Section Two, I examine the economic conditions that accompany increases in the senior citizen population. Of particular interest is the fact that, as this aging trend has continued, Korea has committed large amounts of public funding for economic development, while the budget for public welfare has been cut. And while our national debt is not as severe as that in European countries and the United States, we still cannot avoid the reality that as our society ages, we will need to increase expenditures in social welfare. In Section Three, I consider whether the public retirement system plays a sufficient role, institutionally or economically, in the face of society's aging trend. The national retirement system will be in the red as of the year 2031, and by 2042 the reserve capital itself will be depleted. As the proportional burden on the public retirement system continually increases, it is vital that we map out a strategy for making that system more efficient, and for diversifying the uses of retirement resources.

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