Kim Jong-Un Has a Population Problem

Anthony Fensom

Key point: Pyongyang needs workers and soldiers, but North Koreans aren't having enough children anymore.

South Korea’s demographic decline might be alarming, but its northern neighbor is following a similar trajectory that it is desperately trying to cover up. That is the conclusion of analysts assessing the future of one of the world’s most secretive and authoritarian regimes.

The current population of communist North Korea has been estimated at around twenty-five million, approximately half its southern, democratic rival, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Yet despite not conducting a census in a decade, the North’s population is seen peaking within two decades before following a similarly downward trend.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographics expert for the American Enterprise Institute, analyzed the North’s first population census in 1994, when the population was estimated at around twenty-one million despite “a large chunk of military-age women being removed from the count to hide the corresponding proportion of military-age men.”

The North’s latest official census, conducted in 2008, showed a population of more than twenty-four million. Yet again, according to Eberstadt, the figures were doctored to hide the effects of famine, which is believed to have claimed as many as one million lives.

This showed up in a 2002 study, which found that 39 percent of North Koreans were stunted with below-average height due to chronic malnutrition.

A new census planned for 2018 was reportedly canceled after Seoul cut funding for fear of breaching international sanctions on the North, Eberstadt told North Korea News.

The North’s population growth has already slowed from its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s of an estimated 3 percent to its current fertility rate of 1.9, below the “replacement” level rate of around 2.1, according to UN data.

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