South Korean seniors face the curse of longevity

January 29, 2019 16:44
The call for changing the age threshold of senior citizen definition from 65 to 70 reflects South Korean seniors’ fight for more time to work before they are forced to retire. Photo: Reuters

More than half of South Korean people want the government to raise the official definition of senior citizens from 65 to 70, a survey showed.

According to polling agency Realmeter, 55.9 percent of citizens agreed that the government should raise the official age threshold in relation to senior citizens. The proposal found support from Koreans across different age groups, regions and political opinions.

The government has promised to set up a task force to look into the issue.

Increasing longevity, together with a poor retirement scheme, means lots of South Korean seniors have to keep working to support themselves.

Up to 33.1 percent of Koreans aged between 70 and 74 are still working, more than double the average ratio of 15.4 percent of OECD nations. Moreover, 19.2 percent of Koreans above 75 are still working, four times the figure among all OECD nations.

While the government may want to count on children to take care of their elderly parents, the fact is that up to 52.3 percent the South Korean seniors live alone.

Meanwhile, the percentage of those above 65 supported by children or relatives has dropped to 25.7 percent last year from 39.2 percent in 2011.

Those who are supported by themselves or their spouse increased by 10 percentage points to 61.8 percent in the same period.

Low birth rate could be one reason behind this phenomenon. South Korea has one of the world’s lowest birth rates, at 1.1.

While most seniors strive to find jobs as delivery men, security guards or cleaners to make ends meet, some resort to crime.

The number of crimes committed by senior citizens above 65 increased by 45 percent in the past five years, although the nation’s overall crime rate was falling.

The number of serious crimes including murder, rape and robbery committed by older Koreans soared by 70 percent between 2013 and 2017.

Some old Koreans even deliberately committed serious crimes in order to retire behind the bars.

The suicide rate among the elderly increased from 35 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 72 per 100,000 in 2010, well above corresponding figures in other developed nations like US (10) and Japan (32).

Aging population is no doubt posing a great challenge for policymakers.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 29

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist