SEOUL, July 29 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea’s total population grew at the slowest-ever pace last year as the inflow of foreigners declined for the first time in 30 years amid the pandemic, a national census showed Thursday.
A total of 51.83 million people lived in South Korea as of Nov. 1, 2020, up 0.1 percent, or 50,000, from the previous year, according to the 2020 census by Statistics Korea.
Of the total, the number of Korean nationals inched up 0.3 percent on-year to 50.1 million. That of foreigners who stayed in the country for at least three months fell 4.7 percent to 1.7 million, marking the first decline in 30 years.
South Korea’s total population had grown as the inflow of foreigners increased despite low childbirths by Korean nationals. But last year, the trend changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More Koreans who stayed overseas, such as students and business people, returned to their home country in 2020, while the number of incoming foreigners declined amid the government’s restrictions on visa-free entry over the pandemic.
“If the pandemic is brought under control, the number of Koreans who live here is expected to continue to decline. But the total population will likely grow due to an inflow of foreigners,” Jeong Nam-su, a statistics agency official, told a press briefing.
The country reported the first natural decline in its population in 2020 as the number of deaths outpaced that of newborns. But the population census gauges the total number of people who reside here at the time of survey, including foreign residents.
The census showed the country has faced demographic challenges from rapid aging and a chronically low birthrate.
The number of senior citizens, or people aged 65 and older, came to 8.21 million last year, accounting for 16.4 percent of the total population.
In contrast, the number of youths aged zero to 14 reached 6.18 million, which means 12.3 percent of the population.
The working-age population, or people aged 15 to 64, reached 35.8 million last year, down from 35.9 million a year earlier, the data showed.
South Korea’s total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime — hit a new record low of 0.84 last year. It marked the third straight year that the rate was below 1 percent.
The country is widely expected to become a super-aged society in 2025, in which the proportion of those aged 65 and older will hit 20 percent of the total population.
The country became an aged society in 2017, as the portion of such people exceeded 14 percent.
Meanwhile, about 3 in 10 households in Korea were one-person households last year, the data showed.
The proportion of single-member households accounted for the largest share of 31.7 percent last year, up 1.5 percentage points from the previous year.
It more than doubled from 2005, when the percentage of such households came to 15.5 percent.
The number of people living in the greater Seoul area reached 26.04 million last year, home to 50.2 percent of the total population. The 2020 figure marked a 0.6 percent increase from the previous year.