Common Ground Between North and South Korea: Aging and Shrinking Populations

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, North Korea, South Korea

The birth rate in South Korea, where I live and work, hit a record low this year, leading to concern about the impact an aging (and, eventually, shrinking) population might have on the nation’s society and economy.

These charts show the long-term trends, both in actual population and projected changes, according to United Nations data. I’ve added North Korea, which actually has a higher fertility rate today, for context.

First, let’s look at the populations of the two countries, which share an ethnic background and a (mostly) common language — despite the Korean War-era division of the peninsula.

South Korea has about 51 million residents, roughly twice the number of people in the North, which has 25 million. That’s the number of South Koreans who love in the Seoul metro area, by the way.

Both populations are expected to peak in two decades — and then begin to decline.

That downward trend, for now, is much more pronounced in South Korea because of the nation’s low birth rate. Having a large family in South Korea, where housing and education costs are pricey, isn’t possible or practical for many people. The nation also has relatively weak maternity leave policies (and stubbornly traditional gender roles in the home and workplace), leading women to postpone childbirth to pursue their careers.

South Korea is slightly smaller geographically (about the size of Indiana, in terms of area) than the North (roughly the area of Pennsylvania). So their respective population densities vary, too:

Here’s how South Korea has grown, in five-year-increments, since 1950 — when the Korean War began and ultimately changed the trajectories for both countries. South Korea saw relatively rapid growth rate immediately after the war, perhaps as refugees resettled. Projections show that rate declining by 2035:

The North experienced a rapid decline during the war, mostly likely from the death toll during the conflict, the political purges that followed — and the southern migration before the border was secured. Its growth rate soon recovered, however, but could begin declining again by 2045.

Here’s hoping the Korean fertility rate rebounds, or the two nation’s unify — or either becomes more welcoming and accommodating of immigrants. At things stand now, South Korea could become “extinct” by 2750 — a worrying (though simplistic and imperfect) simulation for a uniquely homogenous society that traces its roots back thousands of years.

Visualizing South Korea’s Assailed Trade Relationship With The U.S.

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance, Policy & Politics, South Korea

President Trump isn’t happy with the United States’ bilateral trade agreement with South Korea.

His main concern, it seems, is that the United States has suffered a “trade deficit”. That means South Korea — a key ally in East Asia on security issues, not just trade — has been exporting more goods to the United States than it has been importing.

In 2016, this deficit was about $23.2 billion.

That’s a big figure, but the United States has a big economy. In context, it’s not much.

Before we get to why that matters, here’s a look South Korea’s trade balances with the world’s largest economies last year. It had surpluses with China ($37.5 billion), its main export customer, Hong Kong ($31.2 billion) and the United States ($23.2 billion), among others.

It had trade deficits of its own with some economically powerful countries, by the way, most significantly Japan (-$21.3 billion), Germany (-12.4 billion) and Saudi Arabia (-$10 billion). Take a look:

It’s important to note that trade balances sometimes vary based on the products each country sells and each country’s relative slice of the global economy, not necessarily trade agreements in their early stages. (China is an exporting powerhouse that sells mass quantities of cheap goods to almost everyone. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, sells pricey oil. The nature of that trade is already imbalanced).

It’s also critical to think about each country’s balance in the context of its overall trade with South Korea.

The United States has that $23 billion deficit, as Trump and others in the United States have noted recently. It imports about $66.4 billion from South Korea and exports about $43.2 billion. A key departure point is automobiles. (You don’t see many American cars on the roads here in Seoul, where I live). Regardless of why, the deficit represented about 21 percent of the overall trade in 2016.

That’s a significant (and growing) figure, but how does it compare relative to other countries?

When normalized, Egypt, Hong Kong, Turkey, Poland, India, Mexico, Belgium and Norway had more unbalanced trade relationships with South Korea than the United States did last year.

Here’s a look at South Korea’s various trade balances with the world’s largest economies, over time, as a percentage of each nation’s overall trade relationship. While South Korea enjoys a trade surplus with the United States, it’s relatively modest in the context of the overall volume — on par with Brazil, China and Thailand, for example.

I’m not saying Trump is wrong to worry about whether the United States has an equal trade relationship with this one trading partner. There’s just a piece of the picture, perhaps, missing from the discussion — even before you consider whether picking an economic fight with a regional security ally is smart policy right now.

[Image from Misaeng (season one, episode 11). It’s an old K-drama I’m just watching now.]

Visualizing North Korea’s Missile Launches

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics, South Korea

Despite international objections, North Korea has launched four ballistic missiles in the last week, including one that flew over Japan, raising regional tensions about the rogue state’s weapons development even higher.

For those of us who live in South Korea, such provocations have become commonplace, especially since the North’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, took over after his father’s death in late 2011. They interrupt Sunday breakfasts or even national holidays, but they haven’t yet seemed like a real threat.

(Of course, they can just use their ample artillery along the border to strike Seoul, where I live).

The missile testing pace and the North’s increasingly technically ability have increased significantly in the last years, however, causing more and more heartburn in the region.

This chart shows the pace of testing over the years, including missiles that “failed” in flight:

The North has over the years developed (and borrowed) its own set of missiles, each with varying capabilities. Lately they’ve grown more powerful, though not always reliable.

Here’s how often they’ve used them, by missile type:

Since 1984, there have been at least 115 missile launches. But those tests have come from a select group of locations around the North: airfields and testing sites. Here are those tests locations, aggregated, with larger bubbles representing more launches:

And this map shows each launch in time order, with a flurry beginning in 2013. Colors change based on the missile type:

This is just a quick post, created largely because I wanted to build another proportional symbols map with D3. For a more thorough analysis, check out this post.

Chart: If Ousted, Jeff Sessions Would Have a Historically Short Tenure

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Policy & Politics

If President Trump decides after all to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was approved just 166 days ago, the former Alabama senator would have one of the shortest tenures in history.

More than 80 Americans have been the nation’s top law enforcement officer as cabinet members, rather than acting placeholders. That list includes 39 Republicans and 30 Democrats. Another 13 attorneys general from other parties (Whig, Federalist, etc.) have also held the office.

The average tenure has been about 978 days — or roughly 2.5 years. Now it appears Sessions could get ousted after less than a half year.

Only two others have served shorter terms. One, Elliot Richardson, resigned in protest while serving under Richard Nixon during Watergate. The other, Edwin Stanton, took office in the tumultuous months before Abraham Lincoln became president.

Here’s the list, sorted from longest-to-shortest tenure: