Korea to Suffer Labor Shortage Despite Higher Retirement Age

  • By Hong Jun-ki

    March 12, 2019 10:03

    Korea is expected to suffer a shortage of the working-age population even if the retirement age is raised to 65.

    Analysis of population estimates by Statistics Korea suggests there will be 31 million people in the working-age population between 20 and 65 in 2030, fewer than the current 31.2 million between 20 to 60 before retirement age.

    The reason is the country's record-low birth rate. Korea's working-age population from 15 to 64 already started dwindling in 2017. Last week, the Supreme Court raised the legal retirement age from 60 to 65. At this rate, there is a strong chance that Koreans will have to worry about a shortage of workers instead of a shortage of jobs.

    Most workers now retire at 60, even though the working-age population ranges from 15 to 64. The number of people between 20 and 60 fell from 31.5 million in 2016 to 31.2 million this year. And by 2030, when the retirement age has risen to 65, there will be only 31 million people of working age. By 2039, even if the retirement age is raised to 70, there will be only 31.1 million.

    Statistics Korea projects Korea's total population to shrink to 36.7 million by 2065, and the portion aged between 20 and 60 to 13.5 million. If the low birthrate continues, the population decline could speed up even more.

    Population experts back in 1960 forecast that machines would eventually replace humans, but in reality the development of new technologies ended up creating new jobs. That means an optimum number of workers must be maintained.

    Yun Suk-myung at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs said, "People can work into their 70s if health permits, so senior citizens could earn a living on top of their pensions."

    The problem is the quality of jobs on offer. Korean men actually retire at 72.9 years of age, while women retire at 73.1, the oldest in the OECD. As of January, 3.99 million people over 60 were employed, the bulk in low-paying jobs after retiring from their previous work in their early 50s.

    Experts said the key task is to improve the quality of jobs available for senior citizens while extending the retirement age. 

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