Korea has become an "aged" society just 17 years after it reached the point officially described as "aging" in 2000, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said Sunday.

A country is defined by the UN as "aging" if the percentage of over-65s exceeds seven percent, "aged" if it exceeds 14 percent, and "super-aged" when it is over 20 percent. 

The population over 65 stood at 7.26 million in late August, according to the ministry, or 14.02 percent of the total population of 51.75 million.

This has happened a year earlier than Statistics Korea predicted. 

Korea is aging at the greatest speed in the world. It took France 115 years to turn from an aging society into an aged one, the U.S. 73, Germany 40, and Japan, the oldest society on earth, 24.

This means that there is little time for society to prepare for the extra costs of a huge elderly population.

Statistics Korea predicted that the country would become a "super-aged" society in 2026, but that now looks to happen much sooner too.

This is because fewer people are dying thanks to medical advances, fewer babies are born, and baby-boomers born between 1955 and 1963 will soon join the elderly population.

"It's possible that the country will become a super-aged society one or two years earlier than Statistics Korea predicted," said Prof. Cho Young-tae of Seoul National University. "It's expected that the retirement age will continue to be raised as older people's desire to keep working grows, and this could give rise to serious social conflict in a tightening labor market." 

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