South Korea joined neighbor Japan in 2020 as a country whose population is shrinking. Official government data showed Tuesday that the population of the country had declined by almost 21,000 people to approximately 51.83 million last year. The decline of the birth rate in the country led to deaths eventually outnumbering births. According to Statistics Korea, 16 percent of the country’s population was older than 65 years in 2019.
In Japan, the population has been mostly declining since 2008. Until 2019, the latest year available from Japan’s Statistics Bureau, the country of 126 million inhabitants has lost around 1.6 million people. After coming close to growing again in 2015, the trend has intensified once more. 28 percent of Japan’s population was over the age of 65 as of October 1, 2019.
While data from Korea is based on resident registration numbers, reports out of Japan are estimates reliant on Census data. According to the UN Population division, populations declined in 2020 in at least 22 more countries, among them Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal as well as Russia and large swaths of Eastern Europe. Especially in the later group, emigration is playing a larger role than declining birth rates. Cuba is supposed to become the first country in the Americas with a shrinking population in 2022, followed in 2027 by Thailand as the first country in emerging Asia. According to the U.N., China is expected to follow suit by 2032. Some researchers have suggested that this could happen substantially earlier, however.