Findings of the 2021 Survey of Separated Families
December 9, 2021
The 2021 survey of families separated during the Korean War found
that the separated family members considered “full confirmation of
life or death” (65.8%) as the most pressing priority to be resolved,
and that eight out of ten (82%) had yet to confirm whether their
relatives in the North were still alive.
The 2021 survey, the third of its kind following those conducted in
2011 and 2016, was administered by the Ministry of Unification and the
Korean Red Cross to update the application information of the
registered separated family members and identify the current status of
exchange between separated family members of South and North Korea and
the demand for new policy. It was part of preparations for the full
confirmation of the life or death of separated family members and
exchange between separated family members in the future.
The survey was carried out on 47,004 people (45,850 at home and
1,154 abroad) who are still alive among those who have applied for
reunions with their relatives in the North. It verified the details of
the registered applicants and updated their personal information
(addresses, contact numbers, and family members) as necessary,
increasing the accuracy of the information that will be used for
future exchange. It also asked about their intent to participate in
exchange between separated family members.
Among those living in Korea who participated in the complete
enumeration survey, it sampled 5,354 people proportional to gender,
age and place of residence to conduct an in-depth survey on the
current status of exchange between separated family members of South
and North Korea and their awareness of policy.
<Update of the application details of separated family members in
preparation for future exchange, inclusive of reunions>
For applicants living in Korea, by gender, there are more males
(65.4%) than females (34.6%) with a gap of 30.8 percentage points. By
age, those in their 80s or higher (65.6%) account for the largest
number and by place of residence, the largest number of applicants
(63.9%) live in the Seoul and Gyeonggi regions.
Among those living abroad, by gender, there are more males (64.3%)
than females (35.7%) with a gap of 28.6 percentage points. By age,
those in their 80s or higher (60.7%) represent the largest number and
by place of residence, the largest number of applicants (69.1%) live
in the United States.
The survey asked the applicants living in Korea about their intent
to participate in exchange between separated family members. The
findings showed that they are willing to participate in confirmation
of the life or death of their relatives in the North (75.7%), hometown
visits (69.7%), reunions (65.8%), and exchange of letters and video
For those living abroad, confirmation of
life or death of their relatives in the North (86.9%) topped the list,
followed by reunions (76.2%), exchange of letters and video messages
(67.9%), and hometown visits (61.9%).
The findings also showed their great interest in projects to prepare
for future exchange, including production of video messages (already
participated: 39.5%, new applicants: 19.7%) and genetic testing
(already participated: 46.4%, new applicants: 19.1%).
<Findings of the in-depth survey on the current status of
exchange between separated family members and their awareness of policy>
Regarding the form of exchange, the respondents most preferred full
confirmation of life or death (47.8%), followed by hometown visits
(18.2%) and face-to-face reunions (16.5%).
With the Covid-19 pandemic persisting, the preferences for
non-face-to-face exchange including exchange of letters and video
messages and video reunions increased while the preferences for
hometown visits and face-to-face reunions declined.
※ Change in preferences (ordinary → continued epidemic, including
- Decrease: Face-to-face reunions (16.5% → 7.6%);
Hometown visits (18.2% → 10.8%)
- Increase: Phone calls (5% →
10.6%); Exchange of letters and video messages (4.4% → 9.5%); Video
reunions (3.5% → 10.2%)
Regarding hometown visits, 3,525 people (82.7%) of 4,260 displaced
people expressed their hope for hometown visits and 2,305 people
(65.4%) wished to visit other North Korean regions, if not their hometowns.
Regarding the reasons they did not want to visit their hometowns,
health problems (51.4%) topped the list, followed by the presumed
deaths of their family members in the North due to advanced age (18.1%).
Regarding generational perception of exchange, 54% of the first
generation of separated families responded that they wanted exchange
between generations of descendants even after their passing.
Meanwhile, 91% of the second and third generations expressed their
hope for exchange, indicating that they are very receptive to exchange
between generations of descendants after the deaths of their parents
The findings also showed that the separated family members want the
government to alleviate the pain of separated families and raise
public attention of the issues through collection and exhibition of
photos and videos of hometowns (34.1%), production of a TV special on
separated families (30.4%), and invitation events for separated
Based on the findings of the third survey of separated families, the
Ministry of Unification will strive to devise effective and efficient
policy on the issues facing separated families by incorporating
changes into policy and developing an accurate understanding of the
demands of separated families. It will also do its utmost to resume
exchange between separated families, inclusive of reunions, as soon as possible.