life expectancy North Korea

Korea was divided into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south due to opposing political ideologies. Before the 1990s, the World Bank estimated that the life expectancy of North Korea was similar to that of South Korea. Men were expected to live to 65.9 years, and women 73 years. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in North Korea that will list what factors have had the largest impact on the growth or decline or this rate.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in North Korea

  1. The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union in Russia led to an economic decline that ultimately decreased North Korea’s life expectancy. This decline was the direct cause of the mid-1990s famine in North Korea, which caused a mortality crisis that lowered its life expectancy by 5.6 years in men and 4.7 years in women.
  2. Though North Korea shares a similar issue with South Korea regarding mortality rates among small children and adults older than 55, the famine-affected North Korea more heavily, leading to a gap between the two countries of 11.14 years among men and 9.90 years among women by the year 2008.
  3. Currently, North Korean men are expected to live to 68.2 years and female life expectancy is 75.5 years. This places the country as 103 on the ranking of life expectancy rates. Unlike several countries in the top 10, North Korea’s national leading cause of death is not suicide, but rather stroke. This is also different from its leading cause for the life expectancy gap between North and South Korea, which is infant mortality.
  4. South Koreans may live longer, but North Koreans have more babies. For the past decade, South Korea has struggled to boost its birth rate, hitting an all-time low in 2017 with only 1.05 births per woman. In comparison, North Korea had a birth rate of 1.91.
  5. Food shortages were thought to be the primary reason why North Koreans also fell behind South Koreans in terms of height, with an average difference of 3-8 cm. Some originally thought that this difference was the result of genetics, but Professor Daniel Schwekendiek from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul rejected this claim. Additionally, Schewekendiek disproved the theory that North Korean refugees are shorter as a result of poverty. The height difference can provide some insight into the correlation between a person’s height and their life expectancy.
  6. North Korea has directed the majority of its funds to its military. An estimated 25 percent of the nation’s GFP is going into these programs. A major cause of young men leaving the workplace is that most take part in some form of military training. As a result, although 40 percent of its population currently lives below the poverty line, North Korea has the world’s fourth-largest army.
  7. North Korea ranks pretty low among countries in terms of carbon emissions. In 2013, North Koreans kept their emissions to 63.8 metric tons while South Koreans put out more than 10 times as much with 673.5 metric tons. This gap has been one of the most significant factors of North Korea’s recent rise in life expectancy. While there are still debates about a nation’s level of carbon emissions and its overall effect on the world, a lot of studies have proven that there is a relationship between carbon emissions, life expectancy and income.
  8. North Koreans struggle with poverty. Citizens of nations with low carbon emissions are predicted to be unable to achieve higher levels of income. This is because these low-emission nations tend to have a stronger focus on exporting goods in order to keep its economy afloat. While these low carbon emissions provide a healthier territorial range for its citizens, without a moderately sufficient and independent economy, the majority of North Koreans still remain in lower-income levels of poverty.
  9. North Koreans have attempted to redirect their focus to their country’s nutrition and health problems. The government has taken steps to increase the number of young children receiving Vitamin A supplements in order to combat the effects of North Korea’s many food shortages. The World Health Organization encouraged the consumption of Vitamin A in 2000. Additionally, North Korea has mandated that nutrition be a part of medical curricula.
  10. In the past, North Korea has prided itself on being a self-reliant country. However, this attitude has been theorized to be the primary cause of the nation’s chronic food shortages since the nation was reluctant to request international food aid. However, after the North Korea’s 2008 population census revealed its significantly poor health conditions, North Korea began a collaboration with the World Health Organization Centre for Primary Health Care Development to improve the nation’s poor health situation.

North Korea’s reclusive and secretive nature means that there is still a lot that remains unknown. However, these 10 facts about life expectancy in North Korea provide some insight into what areas may need more attention from the country’s government and international human rights organizations.

Jordan Melinda Washington
Photo: Unsplash