Seoul, officially known as the Seoul Special City, is the largest metropolis and capital of South Korea. This megacity is the largest city proper in the developed world and the Seoul Capital Area is the second largest metropolitan in the world with more than 25.6 million people, which is half of all the residents in the country. The estimated population within the city limits for 2016 is 10.29 million.
The population of Seoul in 2016 is estimated at 10.29 million, although this is just the population of the Special City, which has a density of about 17,000 people per square kilometer (45,000/square mile). The sprawling metropolitan area is much larger at 25.6 million.
Interestingly, Seoul's population density is almost twice that of New York City, four times higher than Los Angeles and eight times higher than the density of Rome.
Seoul is divided into 25 gu, or districts, which range from 10 to 47 square kilometers and populations under 140,000 to over 630,000. Songpa is the most populous gu with over 680,000 people in 2016. It was the center of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Seocho is the largest gu by area and it's a popular middle- and upper-class residential area.
City Size and Population Density
The city of Seoul covers a total surface area of 605.21 kilometers squared (233.67 square miles). The population density is climbing past 16,000/km2 (42,000 people living per square mile).
Seoul has a very homogeneous population, as the majority of Seoulites are Korean. There are, however, small minorities of expatriates, Japanese and Chinese living in Seoul. In 2010, there were 255,500 foreigners living in Seoul out of its total population of 10.44 million. By the end of June 2011, there were 10.29 million citizens of the Republic of Korea in the city, with 281,700 foreigners.
Of its foreign population, 66% were Chinese citizens of Korean ancestry, followed by Chinese citizens not of Korean ethnicity (nearly 30,000 in population). The third largest group of foreigners were 10,000 US citizens not of Korean ancestry, followed by Taiwan (Republic of China) citizens with a population of 8,700.
The two largest religions in the city are Christianity and Buddhism, but other religions like Confucianism are practiced in Seoul.
Seoul is first recorded as Wiryeseong, the capital of Baekje, and it was founded in 18 BC. It was known as the fortified city on the Han, or Hanseong, but it became the capital during the Joseong period that started in 1394 and was called Hanyang. The city was renamed Gyeongseong during the Japanese occupation and was renamed Seoul after the liberation in 1945.
Baekje was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea and there are still many city walls that remain from this period. The Pungnap Toseong, an earthen wall close to Seoul, is believed to be the original site of Wireyeseong.
The city was originally surrounded by a 20-foot-high circular stone wall to offer citizens security from thieves, attack and wild animals, but the city grew past these walls and the original stone fortress only remains in the mountainous area near downtown, while the gates are still standing near Seoul downtown.
During the Korean War, the city sustained heavy damage as it was passed between the North Korean forces backed by China and the South Korean forces backed by the UN. Refugees also flooded into the area during the war, and the population swelled to 2.5 million, with more than 50% homeless.
Today, the Seoul area has more than 24% of South Korea's total population.
Seoul Population Growth
As one of the most densely packed cities in the world, Seoul does not have much room for growth. In fact, Seoul's population has been declining for a few years as childbirth rates remain very low.
In the recent past, people were flooding to the capital for employment, packing the city and sending real estate prices through the roof. Seoul's population started its decline in 2011, dropping 0.11% in just one quarter. According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, the city's number of single people keeps growing as young married couples move for cheaper housing.
By 2020, there will be 5 working people for every senior citizen, which will drop to 3 working people for every senior citizen by 2030. Time will tell if Seoul is able to reverse this trend, although it seems unlikely.