Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Concern over Korea’s fast aging society


Nearly two out of five Koreans are expected to be aged 65 or older in 2050, a report showed Monday, raising concerns that the nation’s fast-aging population could raise the financial burden for younger people in taking care of senior citizens.

According to the report by Statistics Korea, the ratio of those aged 65 or older to the nation’s total population will likely grow to 38.2 percent in 2050. The ratio is much higher than last year’s 11 percent and 3.8 percent in 1980.

The spike in the ratio of senior citizens is attributable to rising life expectancy and falling birthrates, coupled with enhanced medical technology that helps cure many previously untreatable diseases.

Koreans’ average life expectancy has been on the rise over the past few decades.

The report showed that life expectancy for Koreans stood at 80.5 years in 2009, compared with 65.7 just 31 year ago.

As the ratio of senior citizens is expected to sharply increase, the report expressed concerns that the financial burden that working-age people have to shoulder in taking care of them will also likely spike.

According to the report, every 100 working-age people should take care of 72 senior citizens in 2050, sharply up from the 15 older people that they needed to support last year.

Among the employed in the country, those who are 55 or older accounted for 15.2 percent of the total in 2000 and 19.4 percent in 2009.

The percentage is expected to surpass 20 percent two years later.

The latest forecast comes as Korea is fast becoming an aged society, in which more than 14 percent of the population is 65 or older.

Korea became an aging society in 2000, when the ratio exceeded 7 percent.

The average of the country’s population reached 29.5 in 1990 and rose to 33.1 in 2000 and to 38 last year. It is expected to increase to 40.4 in 2015, exceeding 40 for the first time, and reach 50.4 in 2040.

Challenges posed by an aging population have been drawing keen attention here as of late, as fears rise that the demographic shift could dent overall productivity and growth potential down the road due to a declining workforce and an increase in welfare and medical costs sapping the country’s budget.

The report showed that 30.5 percent of the nation’s total health care expenditures were used to treat senior citizens in 2009, the first time the ratio has exceeded the 30 percent barrier.

In 1999, it stood at a mere 17 percent.

According to the 2010 population census that was conducted last year, the country’s population increased to 48.21 million, up 2 percent from 2005, the previous census, and the number of households rose 9.1 percent to 17.33 million over the same period.

The portion of single-person households was 9 percent in 1990, 20 percent in 2005 and 23.3 percent last year. ◦

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