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The following table gives some basic statistics for South Korea, and for comparison, for Canada, The U.S., Japan, and Australia. Note that Average annual income is given at purchasing power parity (PPP). This means that it has been adjusted to reflect the local cost of living. For example, Japan's average annual income at PPP is about 30% lower than that of the U.S.; however, in actual U.S. dollars Japanese salaries are higher. PPP reflects what you can buy with the money you earn and is, thus, affected by the cost of living, real estate prices, interest rates, etc.

Korea Canada U.S.A. Japan Australia
Population 47.7 m 31.5 m 291.0 m 127.6 m 19.8 m
Population Density (per km2) 462 3 33 332 2
Life Expectancy (avg. years) 75.4 79.3 77.0 81.5 79.1
Average household size 3.1 2.7 2.6 3.0 2.6
Average annual income at purchasing power parity (US$) 16,950 29,480 35,750 26,940 28,260
Economic Growth (avg. 90-02) 4.7% 2.2% 2.0% 1.0% 2.6%
Richest 20% of society divided by poorest 20% 4.7 5.8 8.4 3.4 7.0
Education / Military spending as a % of total spending. 3.5 / 2.7 5.2 / 1.2 5.6 / 3.4 3.6 / 1.0 4.6 / 1.9
Prisoners per 100,000 population 133 102 686 48 116

Korea is, obviously, not as rich as the others, but it is getting richer much faster. In the 1960s, South Korea was poor like Africa. In the 1970s, it was poor like India. In the 1980s, it was poor like Mexico. Now, it is rich like Israel, and not far behind Spain or New Zealand.

For those concerned about safety (or, for that matter, being imprisoned), it's worth noting that the United States has almost six times as many people in prison than does South Korea (or most other countries). It's also worth noting that Mainland China's imprisonment rate is only 111 per 100,000 people. If you live in the 'the land of the free', you are six times more likely to be imprisoned by your own government than you would be in Communist China.

One statistic here that bears out what I sensed when I was in Korea in the late 90s is that there is a relatively small gap between rich and poor. The richest 20% of Koreans are 4.7 times richer than the poorest 20%. I remember that I had daughters of taxi drivers and sons of lawyers in the same classroom. I'd never seen such things in Canada, and it is even more unlikely in the U.S. where the (rather lower-end) lawyer has 8.7 times as much as the taxi driver. Although Korea's more equally spread wealth isn't the result of clever social engineering (Korea got rich fast, recently), it's still a welcome change for North Americans of more modest means.

The source for these statistics is the United Nations Human Development Index Report.

The source for imprisonment rates is http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r188.pdf

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