Credit: Public domain.
Hit by a plummeting birth rate and a steady outflow of population, South Korea’s farmlands are now on the brink of extinction. A study by Nongmin Shinmun 농민신문, a daily paper for rural communities, showed that over the past decade, basic infrastructure - like hospitals, laundromats, even restaurants - has begun to disappear outside of South Korea’s cities. The paper studied the businesses that opened and closed between 2010 and 2020 in all of South Korea’s 612 myeon 면, or townships with fewer than 20k people.
Lack of healthcare has been a chronic issue. As of 2020, 87.9% of South Korea’s myeons had no hospital, and a majority did not even have a clinic (65.5%) or a pharmacy (59.2%). But those figures have remained mostly constant since 2010. The big decreases came instead from retail stores. In 2010, only 9.3% of myeons had no barbershop or hair salon; in 2020, 13.1% had no such services. Myeons without a laundromat increased from 13.7% to 22.4% over the same time period. Myeons without a single restaurant increased from 14.1% to 23.5% between 2010 and 2020.
The same study measured the “point of no return” for various services. For example, a town with fewer than 5,885 residents cannot support a gym. A concert venue cannot exist in a town with fewer than 4,276 people. For hospitals, the minimum viable population is 3,205 residents; for dentists, 3,057; for a pharmacy, 2,604. If a town drops below 2,000 residents, most retail services begin disappearing. A town with fewer than 1,882 people cannot support a restaurant. Laundromats disappear at 1,752 residents; barbershops, 1,531; gas stations, 1,109.