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The Important Differences Between North and South Korea

Important Differences


The Important Differences Between North and South Korea

With tensions rising between the United States and Korean Peninsula, and a potential nuclear conflict looming, it’s vital that we understand the differences between the North and South.

Human Rights Violations

Because North Korea has isolated itself from the rest of the world, it is often difficult to know what is going on there. There are dozens of reports over the past few years though that detail accounts of torture and sexual abuse on citizens who speak out against the regime. For the past 60 years, citizens have been forced to worship the Kim family.

Economic Differences

South Korea has capitalized on its beauty and natural exports, making it a wealthy and diverse country. North Korea being the repressive state that it is, has forced many of its citizens into poverty and starvation. Malnutrition has sadly become a common illness.


If you had to take a guess between South Korea, the flourishing economy, and North Korea, the repressive state… which would you say has the higher suicide rate? If you guessed North Korea, you’re wrong. It’s shocking, but South Korea actually has the highest suicide rate of any country in the industrialized world. This statue was installed on the Mapo Bridge, a common place for suicide.

Required Military Service

Both countries have a required military service from their citizens, as do many other countries. The key difference is that South Korea mandates 2 years of service, while North Korea demands 10 years from male citizens. Female citizens must serve from the time they graduate high school until they are 23 years old.

Racial Purity

North Korean propaganda stresses racial purity. They are lead to believe that South Korea is a dangerously “contaminated” country because of immigrants and inter-racial marriages. This stems from early Japanese fascism and communism.

North Korea Does NOT Have Fair Elections

Although there are elections held every cycle, the Jong family has had a dynasty in North Korea for the past century. “Forever President” is a term often used by world leaders to describe the unfair elections they hold for political optics. Elections act more as a census of the population than a real election.

Size Differences: Population and Height.

South Korea has booming metropolitan cities, fast internet connections and growing diversity in its populous. Because of the food shortage and poor diets in North Korea, the people there tend to be smaller. You can see the height differences in school aged children, and the population differences are clearly visible from space. North Korea looks like a black hole.

South Korea’s President is a rebel.

Moon Jai-In is the current President of South Korea. He and his family fled North Korea when he was just an infant. He was arrested in his twenties for protesting then president, Park Chung-hee. Moon Jai-In defeated Chung-hee’s daughter, Park Guen-hye for the presidency. Guen-hye is now awaiting trial for charges of bribery, which she denies.

The Jong Dynasty Has a Fetish for Propaganda

Propaganda has been a cornerstone of totalitarian governments for as long as they’ve existed, but the Jong family certainly has a flare for the fantastical. Kim Jong-il claims he never defecated, that he was able to walk at three weeks, and that his birth created a new star in the night sky. Kim Jong-un claims to be a world class musician and composer, and that he was able to drive at three years old.

Military First

The “Military First” motto has been a key component of the Jong dynasty since after WWII. Even though much of the country is poor, they spend an average of 22% of GDP on defense. South Korea? A whopping 2% of GDP. The sad part is, even though North Korea spends almost a quarter of its resources on defense, South Korea spends more money, because it’s a much wealthier country.

You Can Actually Visit South Korea


Seoul, South Korea

South Korea has beautiful metro cities like Seoul and Busan, filled with dozens of acclaimed tourist attractions. Do a quick Google search and you’ll see the stark differences. “Tourism in South Korea” will get you airline prices, hotels and fancy restaurants. “Tourism in North Korea” will get you government issued warnings and stories of tourists being thrown in prison.

North Korea Hates America

If you think the conflicted relationship between the US and North Korea is new, you should dig a little deeper. After WWII, North Korea has depicted America as an inherently evil country with whom the only answer is conflict. These pictures are examples of propaganda from that era, when North Korea tried to convince its people that Americans were torturing South Koreans for fun.

North Korea does NOT Allow Journalists into the Country on Visitors Visas

Most countries in the world allow journalists to visit on a visa. North Korea however, controls most of the media made available to their public. Jong-un has even made attempts to block the North Korean internet from being able to access websites from other countries. There are “official” media outlets that come straight from the federal government, which Kim Jong-un claims are the only trustworthy ones. Blocking journalists from visiting is just another way he is able to control the media.

South Korea has a Free Press

Although there have been a few stories of journalists being deported for praising Kim Jong-un, South Korea has a free press for the most part. North Korea controls all the media in the country, most of which is propaganda anyway.

South Korea has an American Embassy

The purpose of an American Embassy in any country is to advance the interests of the United States of America while ensuring the protection of its citizens in that country.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea has an American Embassy. North Korea, in line with their anti-American rhetoric does not. The Swedish Embassy is the closest thing Americans have for assistance in North Korea.

North Korea Can Drastically Impact China/US Relations

China is North Korea’s largest trade partner by far. While the Chinese government is cooperating with the US against North Korea, they hope to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. If tensions between the US and North Korea continue to escalate, it could determine the future of US/China relations. China is not a fan of the Jong dynasty, but are hesitant to topple the regime for fear of instability in the region. President Trump’s rhetoric is anything but stable.

North Korea is quite friendly with Russia

Vladimir Putin recently invited Kim Jong-un to his celebration of the 70th anniversary of WWII. Putin says this is the beginning of his “year of friendship” with North Korea, in which Russia will begin to strengthen its economic ties to the east.

South Korea Does Not Have Nuclear Technology

This may be the most important difference to remember if the situation continues to escalate. North Korea claims it currently has nuclear technology and made vague threats to test its capability on Guam.
Donald Trump responded by saying North Korea “will be met with fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen.” If his threat is in reference to a nuclear attack, thousands of innocent North and South Koreans will perish.

North Korea Restricts Access to the Internet

Finding a device in North Korea that is capable of internet access is a struggle in itself. On top of that, you have to get a permit for internet access. No surprise, only high ranking and wealthy people qualify for internet access. If you do manage to get on the internet, there are only 28 sites you can visit… most of which are state run propaganda.

North and South Korea Were Occupied by Different Countries After WWII

During World War II, Russia and America both occupied territories of Korea in order to ensure the development of a stable government. After the war, political tensions grew in the US/Russia relationship. As a result, communist Russia occupied the North and the US occupied the South. The North became a communist regime under Kim Jong-il with support from Stalin, while South Korea became (and still is) a democratic republic. The 38th parallel, or Demilitarized Zone, is what separates North and South Korea.

Average LifeSpan

In South Korea, the average lifespan for citizens is 82 years. That’s actually pretty high considering the average global lifespan is about 72 years. In North Korea, the average is only 70. There is no data that points to reasons for the shorter life expectancy, but one can assume.


In South Korea, education is very similar to the type of education we know here. In North Korea, although the structure is similar, the content is vastly different. The education there is directed towards science, technology and indoctrination. Basically, education in North Korea is to ensure a new generation of dependable communists.


The Smallest Houses In The World



Food in North Korea is staunchly traditional, while South Korean plates have clearly been influenced by the rest of the world. Food is one of the few places where North and South are quite similar.

Street Scenes

It won’t come as a surprise if you’ve made it this far to see how different the streets look in each of these countries. South Korea has bustling city intersections, filled with street vendors and live music. North Korea is often a drab and dreary looking place.


While North Korea has seen a recent uptick in construction, their infrastructure is very old and falling apart in many places. South Korea boasts a super modern and effective public transit system.


Because North Korea is a communist state, their official religion is atheist. They worship the Jong family. South Korea has seen a growing population of Catholic and Protestant citizens, partly due to western influence and refugees from the north fleeing religious persecution.


North Korea has made skinny jeans, short skirts and certain hairstyles illegal. South Korea is quickly becoming known as the “Hollywood of the East” with its entertainment industry growing in popularity across Asia and beyond.


If you’re an avid music fan, you’ve probably heard some version of Korean Pop music, or K-Pop. If you haven’t, you should, its inventive and incredibly catchy stuff. You’ll immediately notice huge differences between the stuff coming from North and South Korea though. South Korean pop singers are very much like the ones we’re used to in other countries, but in North Korea singers have been imprisoned for singing “inappropriate” songs. The bottom line is, most of the music in North Korea is dedicated to Kim Jong-un or another member of his family. At the very least, Kim Jong-un must “approve” the music before it’s released.


While the two countries both speak the same language, South Korea has changed about a third of their vocabulary. North Korea has stuck with a very traditional version of the Korean language.


North Korea puts a strong emphasis on the collective, which means individualism is not valued. The individual’s actions should be about progressing North Korea as a whole.

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