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indicator value unit
Population 50.0 mil.
Visitors per year 8.8 mil.
Renewable energy 1.58 %

How’s Life?

Korea performs moderately well in overall measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks higher than average in several topics in the Better Life Index.

Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Korea, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 17 337 USD a year, less than the OECD average of 23 047 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn more than five times as much as the bottom 20%.

In terms of employment, nearly 64% of people aged 15 to 64 in Korea have a paid job, slightly below the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 75% of men are in paid work, compared with 53% of women, suggesting that women encounter difficulties in balancing work and family life. People in Korea work 2 090 hours a year, more than the OECD average of 1 776 hours.

Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In Korea, 80% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 74%. This is truer of men than women, as 85% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 76% of women. Korea is a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system. The average student scored 541 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 497 and one of the highest in the OECD. On average in Korea, girls outperformed boys by 11 points, slightly more than the average OECD gap of 9 points.

In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Korea is 81 years, one year higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 85 years, compared with 78 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 33 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably higher than the OECD average of 21 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 84%.

Concerning the public sphere, there is a moderate sense of community and high levels of civic participation in Korea, where 77% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, less than the OECD average of 90%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 76% during recent elections; this figure is higher than the OECD average of 72%. 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 71%, a much larger difference than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points, suggesting a need to work for broader social inclusion in Korea’s democratic institutions

In general, Koreans are slightly more satisfeid with their lives than the OECD average, with 82% of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is slightly higher than the OECD average of 80%.


OECD in Action

Lessons from PISA for Korea

The report Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for Korea aims at helping Korea to identify and address education policy challenges in an international perspective. To this end, it examines the Korean education system through the prism of PISA 2009, considers recent policy developments and suggests specific policy options to foster improvements. The report also provides an in-depth analysis of the experience of other high-performing countries.

Read this report

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Korea in Detail