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North Korea Table of Contents

North Korea

Settlement Patterns and Urbanization

Kwangbok Street, Man'gyngdae District, 238 P'yongyang. The high-rise buildings lining the street contain 25,000 family units.
Courtesy Democratic People's Republic of Korea Mission to the United Nations


Traditional-style houses in Kaesng
Courtesy Tracy Woodward

North Korea's population is concentrated in the plains and lowlands. The least populated regions are the mountainous Chagang and Yanggang provinces adjacent to the Chinese border; the largest concentrations of population are in North P'yngan and South P'yngan provinces, in the municipal district of P'yongyang, and in South Hamgyng Province, which includes the Hamhng-Hngnam urban area (see fig. 1, Frontispiece). Eberstadt and Banister calculate the average population density at 167 persons per square kilometer, ranging from 1,178 persons per square kilometer in P'yongyang Municipality to 44 persons per square kilometer in Yanggang Province. By contrast, South Korea had an average population density of 425 persons per square kilometer in 1989.

Like South Korea, North Korea has experienced significant urban migration since the end of the Korean War. Official statistics reveal that 59.6 percent of the total population was classified as urban in 1987. This figures compares with only 17.7 percent in 1953. It is not entirely clear, however, what standards are used to define urban populations. Eberstadt and Banister suggest that although South Korean statisticians do not classify settlements of under 50,000 as urban, their North Korean counterparts include settlements as small as 20,000 in this category. And, in North Korea, people who engage in agricultural pursuits inside municipalities sometimes are not counted as urban.

Urbanization in North Korea seems to have proceeded most rapidly between 1953 and 1960, when the urban population grew between 12 and 20 percent annually. Subsequently, the increase slowed to about 6 percent annually in the 1960s and between 1 and 3 percent from 1970 to 1987.

In 1987 North Korea's largest cities were P'yongyang, with approximately 2.3 million inhabitants; Hamhng, 701,000; Ch'ngjin, 520,000; Namp'o, 370,000; Sunch'n, 356,000; and Siniju, 289,000. In 1987 the total national population living in P'yongyang was 11.5 percent. The government also restricts and monitors migration to cities and ensures a relatively balanced distribution of population in provincial centers in relation to P'yongyang.

Data as of June 1993