macrohistory & world report

Republic of Korea

Map of South Korea

Republic of Korea (capital Seoul)

World Factbook as of November 2014: "South Korea over the past four decades has demonstrated incredible growth and global integration to become a high-tech industrialized economy... In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion-dollar club of world economies, and is currently the world's 12th largest economy... The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods, and encouraged savings and investment over consumption... Throughout 2012 and 2013 the economy experienced sluggish growth because of market slowdowns in the United States, China, and the Eurozone. The administration in 2014 is likely to face the challenge of balancing heavy reliance on exports with developing domestic-oriented sectors, such as services. The South Korean economy's long term challenges include a rapidly aging population, inflexible labor market, dominance of large conglomerates (chaebols), and heavy reliance on exports, which comprise about half of GDP."

Economic growth rate
2013: 2.8%
2012: 2.0%

Unemployment rate
2013: 3.2%
2012: 3.2%
2011: 3.4%
2010: 3.3%
2009: 4.1%
2008: 3.2%

In 2003, South Korea's National Assembly adjusted to increase in prosperity by reducing the six-day work week to a five-day work week.

Value Added Tax:: 10%

Health expenditures:
2009: 6.5% of GDP

In 1999 Korea spent $470 per person on health care, compared to $40 per person in China and $2,243 per person in Japan.

It's infant mortality figures are superior, at 3.23 deaths per 1,000 live births

Income Distribution – GINI index
Ranks 112th among 141 countries (lower rank number is less equal). The US is 41st.

Military expenditures as a percentage of GDP
2012: 2.8%
2006: 2.7%


Population growth rate:
2014: 0.16%, 183rd among 233 countries

Living in an urban area:
2010: 83%
2008: 81%

Density for 2005: South Korea has 493 persons per square kilometer. France has 100 persons per square kilometer.


Chief of state: Park Geun-hye (surname first) (president) since 25 February 2013, Saenuri Party (conservative). Head of government: Jung Hong-won (prime minister) since 26 February 2013, Protestant, Saenuri Party .

President is elected by popular vote for a single five-year term (last held d on 19 December 2007). Unicameral National Assembly with 299 seats, 245 members elected in single-seat constituencies, 54 elected by proportional representation; members serve four-year terms).

Recent History

At the close of the Korean War in 1953, until the early 1960s Korea per capita GDP was equal to some of the poorer countries in the world. Under authoritarian rule, Korea industrialized, lifting itself while maintaining friendly economic ties with the United States. Unlike North Korea, they were open to investment and trade from abroad – the US and Japan – a route that China would eventually take, later than South Korea. The Koreans valued education and studied hard. While Latin American countries were spending less than 0.5 percent of their GDP on research and development (R&D), South Korea's was more than 2% – more than the other rapidly growing economies of Taiwan and Singapore. South Korea's workers were working long hours, earning and consuming little, enabling the country to pay for the rapid growth, including the importation of materials needed for industrialization.

November 26, 2008: A popular actress, Ok So-ri, is being prosecuted on a 50-year-old anti-adultery law – which carries a maximum jail sentence of two years. Her husband is seeking the maximum punishment. She claims that her marriage is loveless. The law was created in the belief that adultery damages the social order.

November 30, 2010: According to USA Today, South Koreans see the recent artillery attack on Yeonpyeong as a turning point. Emotions are running high, and the public is telling the nation's leaders to respond more strongly should another attack occur. It's a sort of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor for the South Koreans. USA quotes a housewife, Pae Jung Jee, as saying, "We need a strong reaction, but not so strong that war breaks out." Pae added that she takes comfort in the arrival of the nuclear-powered USS George Washington off her country's shore. "It is America's biggest ship," she said. "I feel relieved when it comes here to protect our country."

North Korea has complained of the presence of the US military in and around South Korea, but its tactics appear to have put an end to a minor rise in opposition among South Koreans to that presence.


East Asia, north of China. Slightly smaller than Indiana, equivalent to 314 by 314 kilometers. Capital: Seoul.


South Korea has a democratically elected president, a prime minister appointed by the president and an elected National Assembly with 243 seats. 

Recent History

Korea was freed from rule by the Japanese when Japan surrendered in mid-August, 1945. South Korea was then occupied by US military forces. The Russians occupied the north, and there in 1948 an independent government was proclaimed. The United Nations maintained that the only legitimate national government in the whole of Korea was the Republic of Korea – seated in the south.

The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953. A military coup in 1961 was led by Park Chunghee, who devoted himself to the country's economic development. He was assassinated in 1979. South Korea's first democratic elections were held in 1987

October 27, 2011: NBA legend Jerry West to Tavis Smiley: "... when I went to Seoul, where I stayed, I was amazed at that city... It's the cleanest city, the infrastructure is beautiful. You can't see a graffiti mark, you can't see a piece of paper on the ground anywhere over there. If you look at the people in North Korea, they're getting smaller; in South Korea, they're getting bigger, and there's a reason why – because of nutrition.


The World Factbook

Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.