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indicator value unit
Population 50.2 mil.
Visitors per year 11.1 mil.
Renewable energy 0.7 %

How’s Life?

Korea performs well in some measures of well-being in the Better Life Index. Korea ranks above the average in civic engagement, education and skills, personal security, jobs and earnings, but below average in income and wealth, subjective well-being, environmental quality, health status, social connections, and work-life balance.

Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Korea, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 19 372 a year, less than the OECD average of USD 29 016 a year. There is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn nearly six times as much as the bottom 20%.

In terms of employment, 65% of people aged 15 to 64 in Korea have a paid job, slightly below the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 76% of men are in paid work, compared with 55% of women. 

Good education and skills are important requisites for finding a job. In Korea, 85% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, higher than the OECD average of 76%. This is truer of men than women, as 89% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 81% of women. Korea is a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system. The average student scored 542 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is considerably higher than the OECD average of 497 and Korea is the strongest OECD country in students' skills. On average in Korea, girls outperformed boys by 1 point, less than average OECD gender gap of 8 points. 

In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Korea is 82 years, two years higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 85 years, compared with 79 for men. The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 29.1 micrograms per cubic meter, the highest levelin the OECD where the average is 14.05 micrograms per cubic meter. Korea also performs below the OECD average in terms of water quality, as 78% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, compared with an OECD average of 81%.

Concerning the public sphere, there is a moderate sense of community and high levels of civic participation in Korea, where 76% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, less than the OECD average of 88%, and one of the lowest figures in the OECD. Voter turnout, a measure of citizens' participation in the political process, was 76% during recent elections; this figure is higher than the OECD average of 68%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is estimated at nearly 100% and for the bottom 20% it is an estimated 71%, a much larger difference than the OECD average gap of 13 percentage points, and points to shortcomings in the political mobilisation of the worst-off.

In general, Koreans are slightly less satisfied with their lives than the OECD average. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Koreans gave it a 5.8 grade, lower than the OECD average of 6.5.

For more information on estimates and years of reference, see FAQ section and BLI database.

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OECD in Action

OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2016

This 2016 OECD Economic Survey of the Korea examines recent economic developments, policies and prospects. The special chapters cover: Raising productivity and Labour market reform.

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Korea in Detail