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Demographics of North Korea

map of north korea and neighbors, map of north korea with cities
The demographics of North Korea are known through national censuses and international estimates The Central Bureau of Statistics of North Korea conducted the most recent census in 2008, where the population reached 24 million inhabitants1 The population density is 19954 inhabitants per square kilometre, and the 2014 estimated life expectancy is 6981 years In 1980, the population rose at a near consistent, but low, rate 084% from the two censuses Since 2000, North Korea's birth rate has exceeded its death rate; the natural growth is positive In terms of age structure, the population is dominated by the 15–64-year-old segment 6809% The median age of the population is 329 years, and the gender ratio is 095 males to 100 female Nowadays, North Korean women have on average 2 children, against 3 in the early 1980s2

According to The World Factbook, North Korea is racially homogeneous and contains a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese3 The 2008 census listed two nationalities: Korean 99998% and Other 0002% Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1910, in which the Korean Peninsula was occupied by Japanese In 1945, when Japan was defeated in World War II, Korea was divided into two occupied zones: North occupied by the Soviet Union and the South by the United States Negotiations on unification failed, and in 1948 two separate countries were formed: North and South Korea

Korean is the official language of North Korea The World Factbook states "traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo" in regards to religion, but also states "autonomous religious activities now almost nonexistent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide illusion of religious freedom"3 As of 2008update, 886% of the population older than 5 years old have attained academic degrees In 2000, North Korea spent 382% of its expenditures on education, social insurance, and social security Estimates show that, in 2012, gross domestic product GDP per capita was $1,800 The most significant sources of employment were machine building and manufacturing of metallurgical products, military products, and textiles In 2006, the unemployment rate was between 147% and 365% The 2008 census enumerated 5,887,471 households, averaging 39 persons per house Average urbanization rate was 603% in 2011


  • 1 History of reporting demographics
  • 2 Size and growth rate
    • 21 Male-female ratio
    • 22 Growth rate
    • 23 Promoting population growth
  • 3 Population structure and projections
  • 4 Settlement patterns and urbanization
  • 5 Vital statistics
  • 6 Total and percent distribution of population by single year of age census 2008
  • 7 Koreans living overseas
  • 8 CIA World Factbook demographic statistics
  • 9 See also
  • 10 Notes
  • 11 References

History of reporting demographicsedit

Year Pop ±% pa
1940 8,510,000 —    
1944 9,250,000 +211%
1946 9,260,000 +005%
1949 9,620,000 +128%
1953 9,360,000 −068%
1960 10,790,000 +205%
1963 11,570,000 +235%
1993 21,213,478 +204%
2008 24,252,231 +090%
Note: North Korea was liberated in 1945 and formally declared a country in 19484
Source: Nick Eberstadt,5 Central Bureau of Statistics67
Pyongyang apartment blocks in September 2008

Until the release of official data in 1989, the 1963 edition of the North Korea Central Yearbook was the last official publication to disclose population figures After 1963 demographers used varying methods to estimate the population They either totaled the number of delegates elected to the Supreme People's Assembly each delegate representing 50,000 people before 1962 and 30,000 people afterward or relied on official statements that a certain number of persons, or percentage of the population, was engaged in a particular activity Thus, on the basis of remarks made by President Kim Il-sung in 1977 concerning school attendance, the population that year was calculated at 172 million persons During the 1980s, health statistics, including life expectancy and causes of mortality, were gradually made available to the outside world

In 1989 the Central Bureau of Statistics released demographic data to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities UNFPA to secure the UNFPA's assistance in holding North Korea's first nationwide census since the establishment of the DPRK in 1946 Although the figures given to the United Nations UN might have been purposely distorted, it appears that in line with other attempts to open itself to the outside world, the North Korean regime has also opened somewhat in the demographic realm Although the country lacks trained demographers, accurate data on household registration, migration, and births and deaths are available to North Korean authorities

According to the United States scholar Nicholas Eberstadt and demographer Judith Banister, vital statistics and personal information on residents are kept by agencies on the ri, or ni 리, 里: village, the local administrative unit level in rural areas and the dong 동, 洞: district or block level in urban areas8

The next census is scheduled for 20189

Size and growth rateedit

In their 1992 monograph, The Population of North Korea, Eberstadt and Banister use the data given to the UNFPA and make their own assessments They place the total population at 214 million persons in mid-1990, consisting of 106 million males and 108 million females10 This figure is close to an estimate of 219 million persons for mid-1988 cited in the 1990 edition of the Demographic Yearbook published by the UN11 Korean Review, a book by Pan Hwan Ju published by the Pyongyang Foreign Languages Press in 1987, gives a figure of 191 million persons for 198612

Male-female ratioedit

Young Korean woman walking in Pyongyang

The figures disclosed by the government reveal an unusually low proportion of males to females: in 1980 and 1987, the male-to-female ratios were 862 to 100, and 842 to 100, respectively Low male-to-female ratios are usually the result of a war, but these figures were lower than the sex ratio of 883 males per 100 females recorded for 1953, the last year of the Korean War The male-to-female ratio would be expected to rise to a normal level with the passage of years, as happened between 1953 and 1970, when the figure was 951 males per 100 females After 1970, however, the ratio declined Eberstadt and Banister suggest that before 1970 male and female population figures included the whole population, yielding ratios in the ninetieth percentile, but that after that time the male military population was excluded from population figures

Based on the figures provided by the Central Statistics Bureau, Eberstadt and Banister estimate that the actual size of the "hidden" male North Korean military had reached 12 million by 1986 and that the actual male-to-female ratio was 971 males to 100 females in 199013page needed If their estimates are correct, 61 percent of North Korea's total population was in the military, numerically the world's fifth largest military force, in the late 1980s fourth largest as of 2006update

Growth rateedit

The annual population growth rate in 1960 was 27 percent, rising to a high of 36 percent in 1970, and falling to 19 percent in 1975 This fall reflected a dramatic decline in the fertility rate: the average number of children born to women decreased from 65 in 1966 to 25 in 1988 Assuming the data is reliable, reasons for falling growth rates and fertility rates probably include late marriage, urbanization, limited housing space, and the expectation that women would participate equally in work hours in the labor force The experience of other socialist countries suggests that widespread labor force participation by women often goes hand-in-hand with more traditional role expectations; in other words, they are still responsible for housework and childrearing The high percentage of males age 17 to 26 may have contributed to the low fertility rate

According to Eberstadt and Banister's data, the annual population growth rate in 1991 was 19 percent14 However, the CIA World Factbook estimated that North Korea's annual population growth rate was 10% in 1991 and that it has since declined to 04% by 20093

Promoting population growthedit

The North Korean government seems to perceive its population as too small in relation to that of South Korea In its public pronouncements, Pyongyang has called for accelerated population growth and encouraged large families According to one Korean American scholar who visited North Korea in the early 1980s, the country has no birth control policies; parents are encouraged to have as many as six children The state provides t'agaso nurseries to lessen the burden of childrearing for parents and offers a 77-day paid leave after childbirth

Eberstadt and Banister suggest, however, that authorities at the local level make contraceptive information readily available to parents and that intrauterine devices are the most commonly adopted birth control method15 An interview with a former North Korean resident in the early 1990s revealed that such devices are distributed free at clinicscitation needed

Population structure and projectionsedit

Population pyramid of North Korea

Demographers determine the age structure of a given population by dividing it into five-year age-groups and arranging them chronologically in a pyramidlike structure that "bulges" or recedes in relation to the number of persons in a given age cohort Many poor, developing countries have a broad base and steadily tapering higher levels, which reflects a large number of births and young children but much smaller age cohorts in later years as a result of relatively short life expectancies North Korea does not entirely fit this pattern; data reveal a "bulge" in the lower ranges of adulthood In 1991 life expectancy at birth was approximately 66 years for males, almost 73 for females

It is likely that annual population growth rates will increase, as well as difficulties in employing the many young men and women entering the labor force in a socialist economy already suffering from stagnant growth Eberstadt and Banister project that the population will stabilize that is, cease to grow at 34 million persons in 2045 and will then experience a gradual decline16

Settlement patterns and urbanizationedit

North Korea's population is concentrated in the plains and lowlands The least populated regions are the mountainous Chagang and Yanggang provinces adjacent to the Chinese border The largest concentrations of population are in North P'yŏngan and South P'yŏngan provinces, in the municipal district of Pyongyang, and in South Hamgyŏng Province, which includes the Hamhŭng-Hŭngnam urban area Eberstadt and Banister calculate the average population density at 167 persons per square kilometer, ranging from 1,178 persons per square kilometer in Pyongyang Municipality to 44 persons per square kilometer in Yanggang Province By contrast, South Korea had an average population density of 425 persons per square kilometer in 1989

Like South Korea, North Korea has experienced significant urban migration since the end of the Korean War Official statistics reveal that 596 percent of the total population was classified as urban in 1987 This figures compares with only 177 percent in 195317 It is not entirely clear, however, what standards are used to define urban populations Eberstadt and Banister suggest that although South Korean statisticians do not classify settlements of under 50,000 as urban, their North Korean counterparts include settlements as small as 20,000 in this category18 And, in North Korea, people who engage in agricultural pursuits inside municipalities sometimes are not counted as urban

Urbanization in North Korea seems to have proceeded most rapidly between 1953 and 1960, when the urban population grew between 12 and 20 percent annually Subsequently, the increase slowed to about 6 percent annually in the 1960s and between 1 and 3 percent from 1970 to 1987

In 1987 North Korea's largest cities were Pyongyang, with approximately 23 million inhabitants; Hamhŭng, 701,000; Ch'ŏngjin, 520,000; Namp'o, 370,000; Sunch'ŏn, 356,000; and Sinŭiju, 289,000 In 1987 the total national population living in Pyongyang was 115 percent The government restricts and monitors migration to cities and ensures a relatively balanced distribution of population in provincial centers in relation to Pyongyang

Vital statisticsedit

Source: Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs19

Period Births Deaths Difference Crude Birth Rate Crude Death Rate Natural Increase Total Fertility Rate Infant Mortality Rate
1950 - 1955 230 000 114 000 116 000 23,8 11,8 12,0 2,70 90,5
1955 - 1960 372 000 109 000 263 000 36,2 10,6 25,6 3,80 75,9
1960 - 1965 381 000 106 000 275 000 32,8 9,1 23,7 3,41 66,9
1965 - 1970 490 000 105 000 385 000 36,9 7,9 29,0 4,09 56,3
1970 - 1975 458 000 92 000 365 000 30,2 6,1 24,1 3,72 44,1
1975 - 1980 317 000 83 000 233 000 19,0 5,0 14,0 2,58 35,2
1980 - 1985 388 000 92 000 296 000 21,6 5,1 16,5 2,93 29,9
1985 - 1990 389 000 105 000 284 000 20,0 5,4 14,6 2,45 26,1
1990 - 1995 450 000 124 000 326 000 21,5 5,9 15,5 2,40 24,3
1995 - 2000 443 000 219 000 225 000 19,8 9,8 10,1 2,20 54,9
2000 - 2005 379 000 209 000 170 000 16,3 9,0 7,3 2,05 28,5
2005 - 2010 352 000 231 000 120 000 14,6 9,6 5,0 2,05 27,4

Total and percent distribution of population by single year of age census 2008edit

Source: Central Bureau of Statistics7

Age group Population Male Female Percent
0-14 5578174 2850503 2727671 23,2
15-64 16377409 8159653 8217756 68,2
65+ 2096648 711682 1384966 8,7
Number of children 0-14 Number of women 15-49 Proportion
5578174 6479605 0,86088

Koreans living overseasedit

Large-scale emigration from Korea began around 1904 and continued until the end of World War II During the Japanese colonial occupation 1910–45, many Koreans emigrated to Northeast China, other parts of China, the Soviet Union, Hawaii, and the contiguous United States People from Korea's northern provinces went mainly to Manchuria, China, and Siberia; many from the southern provinces went to Japan Most émigrés left for economic reasons because employment opportunities were scarce; many Korean farmers had lost their land after the Japanese colonial government introduced a system of private land tenure, imposed higher land taxes, and promoted the growth of an absentee landlord class charging exorbitant rents

In the 1980s, more than 4 million ethnic Koreans lived outside the peninsula The largest group, about 17 million people, lived in China see Koreans in China; most had assumed Chinese citizenship Approximately 1 million Koreans, almost exclusively from South Korea, lived in North America see Korean Americans About 389,000 ethnic Koreans resided in the former Soviet Union see Koryosaram and Sakhalin Koreans One observer noted that Koreans have been so successful in running collective farms in Soviet Central Asia that being Korean is often associated by other citizens with being rich As a result, there is growing antagonism against Koreans Smaller groups of Koreans are found in Central America and South America 85,000, the Middle East 62,000, Europe 40,000, Asia 27,000, and Africa 25,000

Many of Japan's approximately 680,000 Koreans have below average standards of living This is partly because of discrimination by the Japanese Many resident Koreans, loyal to North Korea, remain separate from, and often hostile to, the Japanese social mainstream The pro-North Korean Chongryon General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Chosen Soren or Chosoren in Japanese initially was more successful than the pro-South Korean Mindan Association for Korean Residents in Japan in attracting adherents However, the widening disparity between the political and economic conditions of the two Koreas has since made Mindan the larger and certainly the less politically controversial faction In addition, third- and fourth-generation Zainichi Chosenjin have largely given up active participation or loyalty to the Chongryon ideology Reasons stated for this increased disassociation include widespread mainstream tolerance of Koreans by Japanese in recent years, greatly reducing the need to rely on Chongryon and the increasing unpopularity of Kim Jong Il even among loyal members of Chongryon

Between 1959 and 1982, Chongryon encouraged the repatriation of Korean residents in Japan to North Korea More than 93,000 Koreans left Japan, the majority 80,000 persons in 1960 and 1961 Thereafter, the number of repatriates declined, apparently because of reports of hardships suffered by their compatriots Approximately 6,637 Japanese wives accompanied their husbands to North Korea, of whom about 1,828 retained Japanese citizenship in the early 1990s Pyongyang had originally promised that the wives could return home every two or three years to visit their relatives In fact, however, they are not allowed to do so, and few have had contact with their families in Japan In normalization talks between North Korean and Japanese officials in the early 1990s, the latter urged unsuccessfully that the wives be allowed to make home visits According to a defector, himself a former returnee, many petitioned to be returned to Japan and in response were sent to political prison camps Japanese research puts the number of Zainichi Korean returnees condemned to prison camps at around 10,0002021

CIA World Factbook demographic statisticsedit

The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise indicated

Population: 25,115,311 July 2016 est

Age structure
0–14 years: 2097% male 2,678,638/female 2,588,744
15–24 years: 1588% male 2,009,360/female 1,977,942
25–54 years: 4422% male 5,567,682/female 5,537,077
55–64 years: 919% male 1,090,739/female 1,218,406
65 years and over: 974% male 840,003/female 1,606,720 2016 est

Population growth rate
102% 1991 est
031% 1996 est
087% 2006 est
042% 2009 est
053% 2016 est

Birth rate
2001 births/1,000 population 1991 est
1758 births/1,000 population 1996 est
1461 births/1,000 population 2006 est
1461 births/1,000 population 2008 est
1460 births/1,000 population 2016 est

Death rate
894 deaths/1,000 population 1991 est
952 deaths/1,000 population 1996 est
729 deaths/1,000 population 2006 est
729 deaths/1,000 population 2008 est
930 deaths/1,000 population 2016 est

Net migration rate: 0 migrants/1,000 population 2016 est

Sex ratio
at birth: 105 males/female
0–14 years: 103 males/female
15–24 years: 102 males/female
25–54 years: 101 males/female
55–64 years: 09 males/female
65 years and over: 053 males/female
total population: 094 males/female 2016 est

Infant mortality rate
total: 229 deaths/1,000 live births 2016 est

Life expectancy at birth
total population: 704 years
male: 666 years
female: 745 years 2016 est

Total fertility rate
209 children born/woman 2006 est
194 children born/woman 2010 est
196 children born/woman 2016 est

noun: Koreans
adjective: Korean

Ethnic groups
racially homogeneous: Koreans; small Chinese community, a few ethnic Japanese, Singaporeans, ethnic Thai, ethnic Indian, ethnic African, Americans and ethnic Vietnamese

Religion: no statistics available; predomonantly Cheondoism see "religion in North Korea"

Language: Korean

definition: age 15 and over can read and write Korean using the Korean script Hangul
total population: 100%
male: 100%
female: 100% 2015 est

  • Figures from CIA World Factbook as of 2016update22

See alsoedit

  • North Korea portal
  • 1993 North Korea Census
  • 2008 North Korea Census
  • Ethnic minorities in North Korea
  • Demographics of South Korea


  1. ^ Spoorenberg, Thomas; Schwekendiek, Daniel 2012 "Demographic changes in Democratic People's Republic of Korea: 1993-2008" Population and Development Review Population Council 38 1: 133–158 doi:101111/j1728-4457201200475x Archived from the original on 2014-07-25 
  2. ^ Spoorenberg, Thomas 2014 "Fertility levels and trends in North Korea" Archived 2015-04-02 at the Wayback Machine, Population-E, 694, pp 433-445
  3. ^ a b c CIA World Factbook
  4. ^ "North Korea Profile" BBC News 26 March 2014 Archived from the original on 28 September 2014 Retrieved 30 September 2014 
  5. ^ Eberstadt, Nick 2010 Policy and Economic Performance in Divided Korea During the Cold War Era: 1945–91 Rowman & Littlefield p 61 ISBN 9780844742748 
  6. ^ "Archived copy" PDF Archived PDF from the original on 2013-12-24 Retrieved 2013-12-21 
  7. ^ a b "DPR Korea 2008 Population Census: National Report" PDF Pyongyang: Central Bureau of Statistics 2009 Archived from the original PDF on 2011-05-14 Retrieved 2014-10-02 
  8. ^ Eberstadt & Banister 1992, pp 6-7
  9. ^ Choe Yong-nam 2017-03-21 "Census set to be held in 2018" The Pyongyang Times Archived from the original on 2017-03-27 Retrieved 2017-05-16 
  10. ^ Eberstadt & Banister 1992, p xiii
  11. ^ Demographic Yearbook United Nations 1990 
  12. ^ Pan Hwan Ju 1987 Korean Review Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Press 
  13. ^ Eberstadt & Banister 1992
  14. ^ Eberstadt & Banister 1992, p 105
  15. ^ Eberstadt & Banister 1992, p 72
  16. ^ Eberstadt & Banister 1992, p 73
  17. ^ Eberstadt & Banister 1992, p 21
  18. ^ Eberstadt & Banister 1992, p 27
  19. ^ Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision Archived May 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Spy's escape from North Korean 'hell' Archived 2006-02-22 at the Wayback Machine newsbbccouk
  21. ^ N Korean defector says best to leave North alone for nowpermanent dead link
  22. ^ CIA World Factbook 2016


  • http://wwwbusinessinsidercom/north-korea-facts-economy-2012-01op=1
  • Central Bureau of Statistics 2009 DPR Korea 2008 Population Census: National Report PDF Report Central Bureau of Statistics Archived from the original PDF on 14 May 2011 Retrieved 2 October 2014 
  • Eberstadt, Nicholas; Banister, Judith 1992 The Population of North Korea PDF Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California-Berkeley, Center for Korean Studies ISBN 978-1-55729-030-4 
  • Federal Research Division 2007 "Country Profile: North Korea" PDF Library of Congress Retrieved 2 October 2014 
  • Park, Kyung-Pak, ed 2010 New Challenges of North Korean Foreign Policy Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 9780230113978 
  • Yonhap News Agency 2002 North Korea Handbook ME Sharp ISBN 9780765635235 
  •  This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2locgov/frd/cs/
  • https://wwwciagov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/knhtml

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