North Korea vs. South Korea

The Division of Korea started at the end of WWII in 1945. The USSR controlled the North of Korea, and the U.S. held South Korea.

North and South Korea have been divided for more than seventy years. All this time, countries have been developing in opposite directions. Now the result of this development is visible even from space.

Light Pollution

Light pollution can tell a lot about the economic development of North and South Korea.

Images below show a stark nighttime view of North Korea and its more flourishing southern next-door-neighbor.

Light pollution in North and South Korea
Map of light pollution Korean peninsula

Heat map of the Korean Peninsula (1992 vs 2008)

Satellite images show the stagnation of the North Korean economy and the rapid economic development of South Korea over the past 15 years.

Heat maps of North and South Koreas
Vernon Henderson


South was behind North economically up until the 1970s. South had twice the population and most of the agriculture, but little of industry, infrastructure, energy, and resources.

In the 60s, the country was rebuilt with essential industry and urbanization taking place. In the 1970s, the South was already on par with the North. South Korea is truly an island. That’s why the country invested a lot of money into heavy industry and dockyards, becoming one of the most developed nations on the planet. Today, South Korea has a GDP per capita of $46 451.

North Korea closed country, but the accessibility of high-quality remote-sensed night-time luminosity data opens new roads for the calculation of income levels.

The luminosity-based evaluation for GDP per capita in North Korea for 2018 is nearly $790.

The economy of South Korea is the fourth largest GDP in the Asian continent and the twelfth biggest in the world.

Map of South Korea's GDP per capita vs. the res of the world


In 2015 more than 3 million North Koreans had phones. Nineteen percent of homes owned a computer, but that only 1 percent nationally and 5 percent in Pyongyang had access to the intranet “Kwangmyong.”

Activity from the Strava application

Strava is an application that tracks fitness using the sensors in a mobile phone and relies on a GPS location and Internet connection. Many North Koreans have smartphones, but they don’t have access to the Internet and Google Play.

The majority of tracks appear to be from foreigners.

Map of Strava's tracks

Visa requirements

According to the Henley Passport Index 2020, the South Korea passport has almost topped the list as the globe’s most potent, allowing citizens access to 189 countries without a visa in advance, tying it with Germany.

North Koreans can visit only some third world countries without a visa.

Visa requirements for citizens of  North Korea
Visa requirements for North Korean citizens
Visa requirements for citizens of South Korea
Visa requirements for South Korean citizens

North and South Korea in numbers

North Korea: 25.55 millions
South Korea: 51.71 millions

Life expectancy at birth, total population
North Korea: 69.2 years old
South Korea: 79.3 years old

Infant mortality rate per 1 000 live births
North Korea: 26.21
South Korea: 4.08

GDP per capita
North Korea: $790
South Korea: $46 451

Press freedom index ranking
North Korea: 178th
South Korea: 50th

Internet users per 100 people
North Korea: <0.1
South Korea: 81.5

Active duty
North Korea: 1.19 million
South Korea: 0.65 million

Military expenditure as a percentage of GDP
North Korea: 22.3%
South Korea: 2.8%

Military spending
North Korea: $8.213 billion
South Korea: $25.1 billion

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