Monday, November 2, 2015

The crumbling of the Confucian social contract in South Korea

Their fall symbolizes the crumbling of a Confucian social contract Koreans have lived by for ages. Parents spent all their earnings for their children’s success, and in return counted on their support in old age. Now, many older Koreans find themselves without retirement savings or children capable of supporting them.

On the question of whether they had relatives or friends to depend on in times of need, South Koreans ranked at the bottom of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to its annual “How’s Life?” report, released in October. The social support was the lowest among South Koreans who were 50 or older. ...

The 2015 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, released in October, measured the retirement income systems of 25 major economies and ranked South Korea 24th, with only India ranked lower. Last year, only 45 percent of South Koreans between 55 and 79 received pensions; their monthly payout averaged $431, or 82 percent of the minimum cost of living for a single person, according to government data.

About 30 percent of older South Korean families have a monthly income below the absolute poverty level. But they can get welfare only when they can prove that their family is unwilling or unable to support them. Many reject that option because they find it too embarrassing to reach out to relatives they have not contacted for many years.

And one out of every four elderly people in South Korea has depression, according to a study published by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs in September. As a group, their suicide rate is double the national suicide rate.
--Choe Sang-Hun, NYT, on defying stereotype