8 Main Differences Between North Korea And South Korea

You most likely already know that even though North and South Korea are neighbors, the life in these two countries is quite different. But how different exactly, and where does this come from? I’ll answer all these questions in this article.

The main difference between North and South Korea is that North Korea is a dictatorship, ruled by the supreme leader having complete control over the people. South Korea is a democracy, with almost double the population and open to tourism.

Keep reading to learn more about these main differences and how we can explain them.


Let’s start with one of the most obvious differences, a border divides the country. It has been this way for the past 70 years. The split between North and South Korea started to form at the end of the Second World War.

The South had aligned themselves with the Americans and Allies. But the North had chosen to work with the Soviet Union. The North formed the Korean People’s Army (KPA). In 1950, they decided to attack and try to invade South Korea. The United Nations responded and armies from around the world sent troops to defend the South.

The conflict would continue until 1953 when an armistice was signed. It was agreed that Korea would remain a divided country. A border was built along the 38th parallel. Today, though, these tensions still exist. The border, known as the demilitarized zone (DMZ) is one of the most heavily armed borders on the planet.

Global tensions still exist on the Korean peninsula. The Americans frequently use South Korea to conduct training drills. They have made it clear that they won’t tolerate any attacks on South Korea. On the other hand, North Korea develop nuclear missiles, which they have test-fired, raising global concern.


After the country was divided, deep cultural differences started to form between the two Koreas. More freedom in South Korea saw more creative exports come to the fore. This has led to several cultural movements that originated in South Korea and have since spread around the world. This includes:

  • K-Pop. This is also known as Korean Pop. It’s spawned global acts like BTS and Blackpink.
  • Television. Lately, South Korea has become associated with high-quality TV and movie productions. This includes “Squid Game”, one of the most popular shows in Netflix history.
  • Fashion. People in South Korea aren’t afraid to experiment with fashion. They have become known for their use of miniskirts and other colorful items. Though, over recent years they have started to adopt more western fashion ideals.

On the other side of the border, though, the culture is far from thriving. In fact, the North Korean government has banned jeans and mini-skirts. North Korea isn’t known for producing cultural items. This is because the government controls much of what the population sees. This limits the amount of creativity they can express.

However, some aspects unite both sides of the border. Important dates are widely celebrated. For example, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and cultural days like Daeboreum are popular. Each comes with its own set of customs.

Daily Life

Sadly, daily life in North Korea is pretty miserable. There is a lot of corruption within the government. This means that the best items will be going to the officials at the top. But the regular people will be left struggling. Sadly, there is a lot of poverty, with many people struggling to get by.

Another big problem is the control of the government. North Korean leaders can influence the type of content their people can view. While they do have the internet, anything critical of the government will be banned. Their internet system also isn’t connected to the rest of the world. Interestingly, this has sparked a real estate boom near diplomatic houses, as people hope to use the wi-fi to get an uncensored version of the internet.

The good news is that South Korea doesn’t have any of these issues. People are free to search for whatever they want, without government control. The population is prosperous and free to explore their creative endeavors.

Population Size

Another area of stark difference is the size of the population in each country. North Korea has a relatively small population. There are around 25.8 million people. On the other side of the border, a thriving South Korea has double the amount of people. They have 51.8 million citizens.

Aerial view of the city of Pyongyang, North-Korea.


South Korea has turned into a tourist destination. People from around the world are attracted by the vibrant city. There are plenty of tourist attractions including:

  • Changdeokgung Palace
  • Bukchon Hanok Village
  • National Museum of Korea
  • Lotte World

With friendly people and stunning natural environments, it’s estimated that tourism is an important part of the South Korean economy. They receive around 11 million tourists each year and are the 20th most popular tourist destination on the planet

On the other hand, North Korea isn’t as popular with tourists. The bulk of people visiting the country come from China. It’s estimated that less than 10,000 people from the West visit each year. It should be noted that they will often be subject to severe scrutiny. Often, there will even be spies located in the hotel.


It’s also worth briefly considering the religion of the two countries. People in North Korea don’t have a lot of choices about the type of religion they pursue. Officially, it should be regarded as an atheistic state. But the government leaders practice Juche political ideology.

South Korea has more freedom of religion. Because of this, there is a wider range of religious types. Some of the most popular options are:

  • Christianity
  • Buddhism
  • Confucianism
  • Atheism, though, is the most popular choice


One of the most sizeable differences between North and South Korea is the size and quality of their economies. North Korea has received several sanctions from countries around the world. This is designed to hamper their economy.

Because of this, it has become dominant by organizations that are owned and controlled by the state. Collective farming is also a popular option. It’s estimated that they have a GDP of $40 billion. But, as we mentioned earlier, there are still major problems for most of the population. Sadly, mass hunger and starvation are common. Because many people have had to turn to international aid to survive.

On the other hand, the South Korean economy is booming. They have become a world leader in the production of technology. They also have thriving film, television, tourism, and shipbuilding industries. It’s estimated that they have an annual GDP of over $2 trillion.


South Korea is a democracy, where the people can vote for their leaders. They also have strong civil rights and can enjoy the freedom of expression.

However, North Korea is a dictatorship. Leader Kim Jong-un is the supreme leader. He will be responsible for making all the important decisions and can wield complete control over government officials. This filters down into the population. He will be able to control the news they watch and will carefully control the narrative to make sure that it suits him.

Comparison Table

For a quick rundown of some of the key differences between North and South Korea, you can turn to this table.

 North KoreaSouth Korea
HistoryAllied with the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War.Aligned with the United States
Cultural outputNorth Korea has strict control over the cultural output of its people. Much of it is propagandaSeveral aspects of South Korean culture have influenced the world. For example, TV shows like Squid Game and K-pop bands
Population Size25.8 million51.8 million
TourismTourists are rare, with less than 10,000 western tourists visiting each yearBustling tourism industry, getting over 11 million international tourists each year
ReligionOfficially, the state endorses atheismWide range of religions, though most people identify as atheists
EconomyA weak economy, with an annual GDP of $40 billionA thriving economy, earning around $2 trillion each year
Type of GovernmentDictatorship, with the supreme leader having total control of the government and populationDemocracy

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