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Date [ 2013-02-27, 13:10 ]

Some  elderly hasten their closing years.

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) by Ramani Rathir 
 = South Korea today is an economic success story that pulled itself up from the lean years of the Korean War. It has now made history with its first woman President, world class sportsmen with a niche held by its women golfers. Seen Seoul transform itself into a green-eco city, well ahead of many other western cities. It has seen its dramas and K-pop, popping up on stages worldwide. And now there is Psy with his Gangnam style. 

But there is a crack in its fine china! The elderly are not doing very well these days.  The main reason is that Asian family values built on Confucianism are breaking down. Blame it on the pressures exerted by a very competitive society that is focused on economic performance and high personal success.

In the past, noted a New York Times article, “The Confucian “social contract was built on the premise that parents would do almost anything to care for their children – which in recent  times meant depleting their life savings so that their children could receive a good education -- and then would end their lives in their children’s care. No social security system was needed. Nursing homes were rare.”

But what has taken place is that there is now an exodus from farms to the big cities by young people. Those youth already employed in cities found themselves grinding to exhaustion in hyperactive industrial, commercial and office, environments. No doubt this contributed to South Korea’s economic miracle but it left many of their parents by the wayside. This is especially telling in the rural areas. Here, where often many elderly people were left behind, now live out their final years utterly poor. The countryside has an eerie feeling of emptiness, while the towns have a ghostly air about them. 

Korea was late in realizing there was need for social security to compensate for these changes. A pension system was introduced in 1988 but it doled out meager payments. What was sad was that many of the oldest South Koreans were not covered because they were past working age when the pension system was created.

A government report in 2011 revealed that only 4 out of every 10 people over 65 had a public or private pension or retirement savings. Unsaid was the law that denies aid to people whose children are deemed capable of supporting them.

Which raises the question, just how many children able to look after their parents in their old age, do so?

The story of a 78-year-old widow who killed herself by drinking poison in front of her town’s city hall may become too common. She was protesting because her welfare payments were stopped. Town officials declared they had no obligation to support her because her son-in-law had found work recently.

So is it any surprise suicides among people 65 and older, jumped four times higher between 2000 and 2010, from 1,161 to 4,378.

In the future, old folks being abandoned by their children, may not be the only reason the elderly take to suicide. There may not be just enough children to look after their parents.

Consider this fact: there has been a surge in suicides among working adults and teenagers too. This is a trend that is usually blamed on the stress of living in a highly competitive society.

Another is the over-emphasis on being financially successful on the open market. The result is that the South Korean birth rate has plummeted. The, average is 1.2 children per woman. Currently, this is even lower  than Japan’s, which has experienced a slight increase in its birthrate in recent years.

Thus parents desperate for their child to succeed in the education system and get a good job put a brake on conceiving further. They feel they cannot afford another child to drain whatever resources they now have. The home loses its liveliness with the father  turning into some sort of a drone worker bee. This will certainly have repercussions on young people.

Cutting down on having the number of children now will create problems of looking after the elderly in the future. There may not be just enough children growing up into young adults to look after their parents.

This can also mean that in the future, according to the OECD, South Korea’s ratio of workers to elderly people is expected to fall from 4:5 to 1:2 by 2050.

The leaders of the country will have to examine at what price the economic expansion of South Korea?  If it means the end of real family life, many will consider it a failure, no matter how big the country’s GDP grows...

It could also explain why a novel called “Please Look After Mom” has become one of the country’s best sellers in recent years

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