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Koreans Increasingly Resent the Elderly

March 19, 2018 13:31

Koreans increasingly resent the elderly, whom they often blame for holding the country back with their political and social views and for their sheer numbers as society ages.

The Internet is flooded with malicious comments about old people, presaging a revolt against the Confucian tradition of respect for elders that has been a cornerstone of Korean society. But the result is that older people feel increasingly marginalized in a society they worked so hard to build after the war.

The National Human Rights Commission produced the first-ever report on the rights of senior citizens this year based on a survey of human rights abuses and attitudes toward the elderly. The commission questioned 1,000 senior citizens over 65 and 500 people between 19 to 64.

It found an alarming proportion of young Koreans are pessimistic about old age. Some 80.9 percent of respondents aged 19 to 39 said society is ageist, and that is why the rights of elderly people are violated. But among old people, only 35.1 percent thought that.

But the main reason is that the young in Korea, as elsewhere in the world, feel that the old hog all the wealth and welfare. Some 56.6 percent of younger respondents worried that a growing employment for older people is robbing young people of their jobs.

Also, 77.1 percent of them feared they will have to shoulder an increasing burden of welfare costs for the elderly, and 80 percent that their pension payments will decline due to the soaring costs of supporting the elderly.

Again the generational conflict was more keenly felt by younger respondents with 81.9 percent, compared to only 44.3 percent of senior citizens. 

Won Young-hee at Korean Bible University said, "This shows that young people are more worried than senior citizens about the situation they will face when they grow old. If we leave this issue unaddressed, it could become a major problem."

Only 10 percent of senior citizens felt they were abused and neglected, but 85.2 percent of young Koreans felt that way. Also, twice as many young people than senior citizens were concerned about dying alone and facing discrimination in the office because they are seen as old and useless.

This problem is global in affluent societies. In Japan, where more than 20 percent of the population is over 65, negative sentiment toward the elderly has surged over the last three to four years. Young Japanese people, who have to spend a great deal of money supporting the elderly, not only have a general disdain for the aged but also are scared of growing old themselves.

The trend is spreading more rapidly in Korea because aging is accelerating faster than in Japan. In August last year, Korea officially became an aged society, where the proportion of the population over 65 is more than 14 people of the total.

Koo Jeong-woo at Sungkyunkwan University said, "As the economic interests of the generations collide, problems over distribution of the national pension and the obligation of supporting the elderly will grow and could breed an aversion to senior citizens and aging."

That growing resentment is already conspicuous. Derogatory terms for the elderly are spreading among people in their 20s and 30s, amplified by political conflict. A tipping point was the support among many elderly people for ex-President Park Geun-hye, even when to many young people she and the subservient political system she represented were compromised beyond redemption.

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