North Korea population (2021)

The latest UN estimate puts the population of North Korea at 25,549,604 people.

The last official North Korean Government data comes from the 2008 North Korean census which recorded a population of 24,052,231 people.

Today, North Korea (formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea) is the 51st largest country in the world and the 22nd largest country in Asia.

North Korea’s population is roughly half the size of South Korea, which has a population of just over 50 million people.

Population growth in North Korea

Population growth in North Korea has slowed dramatically in recent years. After holding at above 2% per year until the 1990s, the growth rate has fallen to just 0.5% per annum in 2015.

North Korea population by year chart

(Note the large gaps from 1963-1993 and 1993-2008. These are due to lack of data about the population of North Korea, and make growth seem stronger than it actually was.)

There are a number of reasons for this slowing population growth rate including increasing urbanisation, delayed marriage, a high proportion of men among the young North Korean population and, perhaps most importantly in recent years, the impact of famine in North Korea.

Between 1994 and 1998 famine in North Korea was estimated to have killed between 300,000 and 800,000 people every year. Malnutrition would have also reduced birth rates throughout the country and slowed the growth of the North Korean population.

Ethnic groups in North Korea

Korea is perhaps the most ethnically homogenous country in the world today.

The 2008 census reported that, of the 23,349,859 people who answered the census question about their nationality, 23,349,326 reported that they were Korean.

That leaves just 533 respondents who reported that they were of another nationality.

Interestingly almost all of the of the 533 non-Koreans were women. Only 58 were male, set against 475 females. Additionally, almost all (453 of 533) of the non-Koreans were aged 50 years or older.

(See table 5, 2008 North Korean census).

Religion in North Korea

Officially all North Koreans are guaranteed freedom of religion in the constitution. This protection doesn’t always translate to reality, however, as evidenced by the note in the 2008 census (see table 37) which reports that there are just 103 religious professionals working in North Korea today.

There are no official statistics on religion in North Korea, and the majority of the population is thought to be non-religious, either atheist or agnostic.

The main religions in North Korea are Korean Shamanism and Cheondoism. There is thought to also be a small number of Christians and Buddhists in North Korea.


Some argue that the Juche ideology – which stresses self-reliance and venerates North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and his successors – has taken on aspects of a religion, and could be considered to be North Korea’s dominant religion.

North Korea languages

The official state language is Korean. As is to be expected from such an ethnically homogeneous nation, Korean is spoken by virtually everyone in North Korea.

The Korean spoken in North Korea is very similar to the Korean spoken in South Korea, although the two languages have diverged slightly in the 60 years since the two countries separated. The largest difference is that South Korea has adopted many Western words that have not been adopted in North Korea.

Pronunciation is also different between the two countries, as North Korean pronunciation is based on the Pyongyang dialect, whereas South Korean pronunciation is based on the Seoul dialect.

Largest cities in North Korea

The population of Pyongyang is 3,255,288 people (2008 data). This makes the capital the largest city in North Korea by some distance.

The only other cities in North Korea with a population of more than half a million people are Hamhung (768,551) and Chongjin (667,929).

Here is a list of the ten largest cities in North Korea.

[table “40” not found /]

Education and literacy rate

Education in North Korea is state organised and funded, and attendance at school is compulsory for all children over the age of five.

Continuing adult education is also compulsory, and often takes the form of small study groups and practical, work-focused study.

North Korea also has a number of more traditional universities. The most prestigious is considered to be Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang which is host to 16,000 students.

The official literacy rate in North Korea is almost 100%. Of the 20,495,407 people aged over 10 years, only 326 are judged to be illiterate.

Rather unusually for a country in the region, over 99.9% of all North Koreans over 80 years of age are literate.

Although the official North Korean literacy data is likely to have been exaggerated, the country’s well regarded universal education system means that the real literacy rate is probably not all that far off 99%.

Other North Korean demographic data

Data in this section is, unless otherwise noted, drawn from the CIA Factbook, and is from 2015.

Sex ratio

The sex ratio at birth in North Korea is 1.05 male(s) to every female. This is very similar to the global average of 1.07 male(s) to every female at birth.

North Korea sex ratio at birth1.05 male(s)/female
Global average sex ratio at birth1.07 male(s)/female

The total sex ratio across all ages is 0.94 male(s) to every female, which is lower than the global average of 1.01 males(s) to every female.

North Korea total sex ratio0.94 male(s)/female
Global average total sex ratio1.01 male(s)/female

The extremely low ratio of 0.53 male(s) to every female aged 65 or over can largely be attributed to the death toll in the Korean War.

Life expectancy

Life expectancy in North Korea is much lower than in South Korea. The average North Korean can expect to live 70 years. This compares with an average life expectancy of 82 years in South Korea.

North Korea life expectancy70 years
South Korea life expectancy82 years

Life expectancy for North Korean males is 66 years, and life expectancy for North Korean females is 74 years.

Male life expectancy66 years
Female life expectancy74 years

Median age

The median age in North Korea is 33.6 years. For men, the median age is 32.0 years and for women it is 35.2 years.

Median Age33.6 years
Male Median Age32.0 years
Female Median Age35.2 years

Birth and death rate

The birth rate in North Korea is 14.52 births / 1,000 population. The death rate is 9.21 deaths / 1,000 population.

Birth Rate14.52 births per 1,000 population
Death Rate9.21 deaths per 1,000 population

Fertility rate

The fertility rate in North Korea is 1.97 children per woman. This is below the replacement rate of 2.33 children per woman, but still considerably higher than the fertility rate in South Korea, which is 1.2 children per woman.

North Korea fertility rate1.97 children per woman
South Korean fertility rate1.2 children per woman
Replacement fertility rate2.33 children per woman

North Korea population pyramid

Here is a North Korean population pyramid.

North Korea population pyramid 2016

Note the low ratio of male to female among older North Koreans, which is in large part due to the Korean War.

North Korea population by year

Here is a table listing the population of North Korea by year.

There are large gaps between years because the North Korean government only published population data on a very irregular basis. In particular there are large gaps between 1963 and 1993 and between 1993 and 2008.

[table “41” not found /]