The Koreans belong to one ethnic family speaking one language. Linguistic and anthropological studies as well as legendary sources clearly distinguish Koreans from the Chinese as well as from the Japanese. Sharing distinct physical characteristics, they are believed to be descendants of several Mongol tribes which migrated onto the Korean Peninsula from Central Asia. The Koreans were a homogeneous people by the beginning of the Christian era. In the seventh century A.D. they were politically unified for the first time by the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) and subsequently witnessed a great cultural flowering. The Korean people struggled successfully for millennia to maintain their cultural and political identity despite the influence of neighboring China and the more recent aggressive inclinations of the Japanese. They are a proud people with one of the longest national histories in the world.
The Republic of Korea had a population of 46.85 million in 1998 and registered a density of 471.5 persons per square kilometer. The population of North Korea was 22.08 million in 1999. Fast population growth was once a serious social problem in the Republic, as in most other developing nations. Owing to successful family planning campaigns and changing attitudes, however, population growth has been curbed remarkably in recent years. The annual growth rate was 0.92 percent in 1998.
A notable trend in the population structure is that it is getting increasingly older. The 1999 statistics showed that 38.4 percent of the total population was under 25. The number of people of productive age, 15 and above, rose from 36,655,817 in 1999 to 33,872,000 in 1994. Another distinct but unwelcome phenomenon is the continuing migration of rural residents to cities, resulting in heavy population concentrations. Currently, one out of every four Koreans lives in Seoul. Specialists predict that the urban population will increase to 86.4 percent in 1999, up from 74.4 percent in 1990. To cope with the growing urban problems caused by such an imbalance, the Government has prepared a long-term manpower development plan. The plan aims at dispersing population to provincial areas through the relocation of economic activities and balanced land development. Minority groups are almost nonexistent in Korea, apart from some 13,640 Chinese who are mostly long-term residents in the capital area.