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Most South Koreans live in urban areas, due to rapid migration from the countryside during the country's rapid economic expansion in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The capital city of Seoul is also the country's largest city and chief industrial center. It had 10.3 million inhabitants in 2006, making Seoul one of the most populated single cities in the world. Other major cities include Busan (3.65 million), Incheon (2.63 million), Daegu (2.53 million), Daejeon (1.46 million), Gwangju (1.41 million) and Ulsan (1.10 million).

The population has also been shaped by international migration. Following the division of the Korean peninsula after World War II, about four million people from North Korea crossed the border to South Korea. This trend of net entry reversed over the next forty years due to emigration, especially to the United States and Canada. However, South Korea's burgeoning economy and improved political climate in the early and mid-1990s slowed the high emigration rates typical of the previous decade. Many of those who left the country chose to return.

Although small, the percentage of non-Koreans in South Korea has risen rapidly in the early twenty-first century. Officially, as of April 2005, the total number of known foreign labourers in South Korea stood at 378,000, 52% of whom were in the country without authorization. This foreign workforce mainly comes from South Asian and Southeast Asian nations. There are also many workers from the former Soviet Union countries as well as some from Nigeria. In addition to these workers, there are about 11,000 expat English teachers and around 31,000 US military personnel.

An image of Shakyamuni Buddha at a Seokguram Temple in South Korea

As of 2005, approximately 22 million or 46.5% of the South Korean population express no religious preference. Of the remainder, 10.7 million are Buddhist, 8.6 million are Protestant, 5.1 million are Catholic, and less than half a million belong to various minor religions including Jeungsando and Wonbuddhism. The largest Christian church in South Korea, Yoido Full Gospel Church, is located in Seoul and has approximately 780,000 members (2003 estimate). Including Yoido Full Gospel, 11 of the world's 12 largest churches are located in Seoul (see Korean Christianity). South Korea is also the second largest missionary sending nation on earth, after the U.S. Islam in Korea is estimated to be at 45,000 in addition to some 100,000 foreign workers from Muslim countries.

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