SEOUL -- South Korea's potential unification with North Korea could slow the pace of population aging on the Korean Peninsula by up to five years, an economist said Thursday.

Choi Ji-young, an economist at the Bank of Korea (BOK), said South Korea alone could enter into an aged society this year where people over 65 make up between 14 percent and 20 percent of the population.

South Korea could cross the threshold into a super-aged society around 2026, when more than 20 percent of the people will be over 65, she said.

But if the two countries are counted as one, the overall demographics will change, delaying the general aging of the population. Under this scenario the Korean Peninsula would become an aged society and a super-aged society in 2021 and 2031, respectively, if the population merged in 2020, Choi said.

The researcher said the delay would be attributable to North Korea's relative high total fertility rate and high ratio of people aged under 14. North Korea's total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime -- stood at 1.94 in 2015, compared to just 1.24 in South Korea. The total fertility rate of the two Koreas is still below the replacement level of 2.1 that would keep their populations stable.

"The population integration of the two Koreas may alleviate the burden of population aging of South Korea. This positive impact, however, may be gradually reduced if the North's fertility rate sharply drops and life expectancy converges to the level of the South," Choi said.

"On the other hand, the level of population aging may be controlled if the fertility rate of the North rises going forward," the BOK analysts said.

Despite such a prediction, the likelihood of some sort of merger of population is slim since South and North Korea remain technically in a state of war as the bloody 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a formal peace treaty.

Source: Yonhap News Agency