Nork Korea Class System: Songbun

Everyone Is Born into One of Three Classes:

Core, Wavering (sometimes called Basic) or Hostile (sometimes called Complex)

A citizen's "songbun" can determine his fate, from whether he can go to college to how much food he gets during a famine. While this tight system of control has loosened in recent years along with other parts of North Korean society, it remains an important force in people's lives and crucial to understanding the nation's society and psychology. Along with "leader worship," it is a foundation of the nation.
North Korea: A Country Study (2008)

Update on Songbun from the 2/14 United Nations Human Rights Report

Find the Entire Report Here
  1. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea presents itself as a State where equality, non-discrimination and equal rights in all sectors have been fully achieved and implemented. In reality, it is a rigidly stratified society with entrenched patterns of discrimination, although these are being modified to some extent by the transformative socioeconomic changes introduced by market forces and technological developments. State-sponsored discrimination in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is pervasive, but is also shifting. Discrimination is rooted in the songbun system, which classifies people on the basis of State-assigned social class and birth, and also includes consideration of political opinions and religion. Songbun intersects with gender-based discrimination, which is equally pervasive. Discrimination is also practised on the basis of disability, although there are signs that the State may have begun to address this particular issue.
  2. The songbun system used to be the most important factor in determining where individuals were allowed to live; what sort of accommodation they had; what occupations they were assigned to; whether they were effectively able to attend school, in particular university; how much food they received; and even whom they might marry. This traditional discrimination under the songbun system was recently complicated by increasing marketization in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and by the influence of money, including foreign currency, on people’s ability to have greater access their economic, social and cultural rights. At the same time, significant segments of the population who have neither the resources nor favourable songbun find themselves increasingly marginalized and subject to further patterns of discrimination, given that basic public services have collapsed or now effectively require payment. 

The Best Study on Songbun:

"Marked for Life" by the

Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

The 2012 study outlines the current class system and its impact. While recent reports  indicate that money can increasingly be used to mitigate "bad Songbun" in North Korea, the class system is still the norm. Get the study here.

CIA Study on North Korean Society & Songbun

 The CIA considers this one of its key documents on the topic. It was written in 1983 and the CIA declassified it in 2013 pursuant to a request from KorCon.

 North Korean Classes Under Songbun System 

From South Korean Ministry of Unification

Top-Level Classes Differ From Those Above