The growing development gap between the capital region and the provinces is becoming a serious problem. Seoul benefited from the concentration of qualified human resources, money, opportunities, and infrastructure during industrialization and fast economic development in the latter half of the 20th century. Now, 49 percent of the country's total population, 50 percent of the GDP, and 91 percent of the top 100 companies are all based in Seoul.
Statistics show that the degree of concentration of economy in Seoul is excessive. As of last year, 12.03 million or 50.4 percent of all jobs in Korea were in the Seoul metropolitan area, and 65.8 percent of those who earn over W100 million a year based on income tax data are Seoul residents.
Shopping and cultural facilities as well as medical services are also heavily concentrated in Seoul. Of the W25.79 trillion (US$1=W1,081) of revenues from medical checkups and treatment as of 2008 under the National Health Insurance Corporation, W6.94 trillion or 26.9 percent was to hospitals in Seoul. Of that, 36.2 percent or W2.51 trillion was for patients from the provinces.
Among patients of the four leading hospitals in the capital -- Seoul Asan Medical Center, Severance Hospital, Seoul National University Hospital and Samsung Medical Center -- 48.5 percent came from the provinces in 2007. "Patients tend to go to Seoul even for very simple operations," a surgeon said.
To resolve the excessive concentration of wealth, resources and population in Seoul and achieve more balanced development throughout the country, experts say the provinces must be persuaded that parallel development is possible. "Rather than taking away what the capital already has and distributing it to other parts of the country, it is better for the government and the private sector to discover the strengths of each region and nurture them," said Hwang Han-sik, a professor at Pusan National University.
More also needs to be done to dispel the international impression that Korea equals Seoul. Kim Chan-suk of Cheongju University said, "We need to develop a number of provincial cities and their distinctive industry or culture so that they too can be recognized as essential to the Korean identity."