Facing the Future

Korea's Family, Pension and Health Policy Challenges

Korea faces an extraordinary ageing challenge. Korea will age much faster than other OECD countries: in 2000, about 7% of Korea’s population were over 65; in 2050, senior citizens will constitute about 37% of Korea’s population. Population ageing will unfold at high speed, firstly because of the dramatic increase in life expectancy from just over 52 years in 1960 to over 77 years in 2004. a major cause of this was the spectacular decrease in infant mortality rates from 45 infants per 1000 live births in 1970 to 5.3 in 2002. The second cause of population ageing is the sharp decline in birth rates from close to 3 children per woman in 1975 to less than 1.2 in 2004. Reduced child mortality rates and increased life expectancy are indicators of the success of the Korean economy and society. However, the decline in fertility rates in Korea is evidence of strains in society which will damage prosperity in the future.


Population ageing on this scale will inevitably lead to a huge increase in spending on old-age income support and health care, and will also require the development of a public family policy which supports the reconciliation of work and care commitments of workers. To successfully meet the ageing challenge, the OECD believes that three policy objectives must be targeted. First, the decline in the working-age population needs to be slowed. Second, working opportunities need to be extended.  Third, affordable and sustainable pension and health care policies must be implemented. This volume looks at existing Korean family, health and pension policies from an international perspective, considers them in view of the emerging policy challenges, and outlines some of the policy options that are available to policy makers in Korea.