The DPRK’s 2008 census: results and analysis

Thanks to a responsive employee at the UNFPA, I obtained a summary of the DPRK’s census findings.  You can download the summary here.

Thanks to a reader I was able to obtain a copy of the entire census data set.  You can download it here.

Both documents have been added to the “DPRK Economic Statistics Page“. Happy reading.


UPDATE 1: The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Ramstad published some analysis of the DPRK’s 2008 census data.  According to the article:

North Korea is getting bigger, older and less healthy, according to data from the country’s latest census, and its fabled million-man army might have fewer than 700,000 people.

The authoritarian government in December released results of the census conducted in 2008, saying its population had climbed to 24 million people from 21.2 million in the previous census in 1993.

More details have been published by the United Nations Population Fund, which helped North Korea conduct the census and sent five teams of observers to monitor it.

Even so, it’s difficult for outsiders, with so little access to the country, to be certain of the precision of North Korea’s data. For decades, the government has cut off the dissemination of most information about the country. The new census numbers provide a rare glimpse of official statistics.

The census reported that North Korea’s population grew at an annual average rate of 0.85% for the 15-year period, a time that included a devastating multiyear famine that analysts and foreign aid agencies estimate killed between one million and two million people.

A separate U.N. report published last year found that North Korea’s population has grown more slowly since 2005, at an annual rate of 0.4%. The global population has grown 1.2% annually since 2005, the U.N. report said.

North Korea’s census said the country’s population has proportionately fewer children and more middle-aged people than it did in 1993.

It also reported that people are less healthy.

Babies are more likely to die: The infant mortality rate climbed to 19.3 per 1,000 children in 2008 from 14.1 in 1993, though North Korea’s rate is still well below the world average, which a 2009 report by the U.N. agency put at 46 per 1,000 children.

North Koreans are living shorter lives—average life expectancy has fallen to 69.3 years from 72.7 in 1993.

As in many places, women live longer than men, with a gap of about seven years, compared with the world average of 4.4 years.

North Korea has 5.9 million households, with an average of 3.9 people in each, according to the census.

The typical home is 50 to 75 square meters in size (540 to 800 square feet). About 85% of homes have access to running water and about 55% have a flush toilet.

The census provided only a glimpse of the country’s economic structure, but even that produced some surprises. The occupation that provides the most employment—farming—has more women, 1.9 million, than men, 1.5 million.

The second-biggest occupation, working for the government or the military, employs 699,000 people. The census doesn’t break that group down further, but the figure suggests North Korea’s military isn’t as large as had been thought.

The military is often portrayed by outside military analysts and media as a force of one million people, mostly conscripts who are required to serve 10 years.

The third-largest employment sector by number of workers is education, followed by machinery manufacturing, textiles and coal mining. About 40,000 people work in computer, electronic or optical-product manufacturing.

North Korea hasn’t shared meaningful information about its economy or its financial system with the outside world since the early 1960s.

Outside estimates of its economic performance, most prominently an annual estimate by the South Korean central bank, the Bank of Korea, are filled with assumptions that even their authors say render them almost meaningless.

Word of the availability of the North Korea census data was disseminated last week on North Korea Economy Watch, a Web site run by Curtis Melvin, a Virginia-based graduate student in economics and a specialist in North Korea.

Read the full article here:
Pyongyang Reports an Aging, Less Healthy Population
Wall Street Journal
Evan Ramstad

UPDATE 2 (1/12/2011): According to the Choson Ilbo:

Each year, Statistics Korea publishes population figures for North Korea in a booklet based on surveys conducted by international organizations like the UN and data released by the Education Center for Unification under the Unification Ministry.

Most of these statistics were compiled based on a census the North took in 2008 with the UN’s help.

North Korea’s only previous census was in 1993, which established that the population is 21.21 million. Although rumor has it that several millions of people starved to death during the famine of the 1990s, nobody knows how many exactly died.

The second census in 2008 was taken with funds provided by the UN Population Fund to obtain basic data for humanitarian aid to the North. The North accepted the offer, presumably because it wanted a good grasp of the reality to develop its own economy.

The census lasted for 15 days, from Oct. 1 to 15, 2008. The North’s Central Statistics Bureau surveyed 5,587,767 households nationwide by mobilizing a total of 35,000 census takers through municipal and provincial statistics offices. The questionnaire consisted of 53 questions about income, furniture, electronic home appliances, toilets, heating system, and tap water and sewage facilities, as well as basic personal information such as age and gender.

Like in South Korea, the North Korean census takers visited homes to ask the questions face to face. Statistics Korea officials flew to China, where they taught North Korean officials census methodology and techniques, and the South gave the North as much as US$4 million for the census from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund.

According to the census, the North’s population was 24,062,000, up 2.85 million from 1993. Average life expectancy was 69.3 years, and infant mortality was 19.3 per 1,000. But these data are quite different from UN estimates, which put life expectancy at 67.3 years and infant mortality at 48 per 1,000. The credibility of the North’s census data has not been verified.


12 Responses to “The DPRK’s 2008 census: results and analysis”

  1. RegularReader says:


    How accurate do you think these census statistics are? To what degree do you think the UN vetted these figures, if at all?

    A quick glance at the summary spurs the question. First, the English is just slightly awkward at points, suggesting it may not have been written by a UN official. Second, some results seem questionable. The assertion that “school attendance rate among children between 5 and 16 was also nearly 100 percent,” for example, does not match accounts offered in other sources, such as Barbara Demick’s new book.

  2. NKeconWatch says:

    To be honest I have not even looked at it yet. I have been so busy lately that it has been a lot if work just keeping up with posts. That is why I have not commented on it.


  3. RegularReader says:

    It looks as if the census was led by the Central Bureau of Statistics — the same people behind the country’s economic numbers. Does this bode well or ill for the document’s accuracy?

    Also, do you know where a copy of the 1993 census might be available?

  4. Regular Reader, if I’m not mistaken the 1993 census data is discussed extensively, if not reprinted in its entirety, in the immense 2003 version of Yonhap’s _North Korea Handbook_ ( ).

  5. NKeconWatch says:

    Thanks for the link Adam.

  6. RegularReader says:

    Cheers — Thanks for the lead.

    And an update on the question of accuracy: According to Evan Ramstad, the UN had five teams of observers monitoring the census.


  7. Jonathan Taylor says:

    Can you tell me when the UNPFA report was first posted about here? The Feb 20 WSJ article cites NK Econ Watch “last week”, but this post is dated Feb 21 (but comments begin Feb 15)?

  8. NKeconWatch says:

    It was posted on the 14th or 15th. The dates are messed up because I updated the post and did not keep the original date.