North Korea is getting bigger, older and less healthy, and its fabled million-man army might have fewer than 700,000 people, according to the country's latest census, news reports said.
Details of the 2008 survey have been published by the United Nations Population Fund, which had helped North Korea conduct the census and had sent five teams of observers to monitor it, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said last Saturday.
The rare glimpse of official statistics paints a bleak picture. The population rose from 21.2 million in 1993, when the last census was conducted, to 24.1 million, despite a famine in the mid- to late 1990s that killed an estimated one million to two million people and continuing food shortages since then.
However, in a sign of deteriorating health, North Koreans now have shorter lifespans than they did 15 years ago and more children are dying, the data showed. Average life expectancy dropped to 69.3 years in 2008 from 72.7 years in 1993.
Meanwhile, the infant mortality rate climbed to 19.3 per 1,000 children from 14.1. The country now has proportionately fewer children and more middle-aged people than it did in 1993.
The census provided only a glimpse of the country's economic structure, but even that produced some surprises, the WSJ said.
Farming, the occupation that provides the most employment, has more women, 1.9 million, than men, 1.5 million. And about 700,000 people work in public administration and defence - the second biggest occupation. This group was not broken down further, but the figure suggests North Korea 's military is not as large as had been thought.
The military is often portrayed by foreign analysts and media as a force of one million people, mostly conscripts required to serve 10 years.
It is difficult for outsiders, with so little access to the country, to be certain of the accuracy of North Korea 's data.
For example, the census reported that North Korea 's population grew at an annual average rate of 0.85 per cent for the 15-year period.
A separate UN report published last year found that North Korea 's population has grown more slowly since 2005, at an annual rate of 0.4 per cent. The global population has grown by 1.2 per cent annually since 2005, the UN report said.