Foreigners See Koreans as 'Nervous Overachievers'

      August 21, 2010 08:41

      Korea managed to rise to fourth place in the world in terms of per-capita GDP growth over the last 40 years, but Koreans apparently work the longest hours to maintain that distinction.

      The Chosun Ilbo analyzed around 100 indices and global rankings announced over the last year by international organizations, private research institutes and major media. Koreans achieved material wealth, but were found to be "nervous overachievers" who lived under physical and psychological stress.

      "Individual institutions have own methods of compiling statistics, but the rankings published by credible ones have a huge impact on a country's image," said Park Sung-hwa, a researcher at the Presidential Council on Nation Branding. "Foreigners tended to have a positive view of Korea's economic development but see North-South Korean tensions negatively."

      ◆ Increased Stature, But Stingy

      Korea ranked 15th in the world in terms of GDP, according to the World Bank, and fifth when it comes to economic growth rate in 2008 in a separate ranking published by the OECD. According to the 2010 draft of the annual UN Human Development Report, Korea ranked fourth among member countries in rise in per-capita GDP since 1970. But rapid economic growth has led to a widening gap between rich and poor and criticism over lopsided development. Korea ranks ninth among 32 OECD members in terms of income disparity.

      At the same time it is still in its infant stage when it comes to international aid donations, ranking 19th out of 25 countries in international donations in 2010, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

      ◆ Smart Students, But No Sleep

      Korea is among the world's leaders in "brain power." According to British psychologist Richard Lynn, the average IQ of Koreans was 106, second among 184 countries that conduct IQ tests each year. Singapore came first. According to the UN Human Development Index, Korea's educational index ranked seventh in the world. But Korean students between 15 and 24 study the longest hours, averaging seven hours and 50 minutes a day.

      ◆ Hard Workers, But Low Quality of Life

      The Economist magazine cited Korea as an example that "economic prosperity does not always guarantee quality of life." Koreans rank among the top of the world in terms of the hours they log in at work. According to the International Institute for Management Development, Koreans work on average 2,305 hours a year on average. That puts them in fourth place in the world after Qatar, Mexico and Hong Kong and in the top spot among OECD countries. Forbes magazine reminded its readers to think of the crazy hours Korean workers put in when they get tired of working.

      Korea consistently ranks at the bottom in terms of quality of life, coming 25th in the OECD in a happiness index compiled by Samsung Economic Research Institute.

      ◆ Most Wired Nation, But Limited Freedom of Speech

      Korea stands out when it comes to high-speed Internet connectivity. Although it has only the world's 26th largest population, it has the 10th most Internet users. And the country stands at the top in terms of Internet penetration and second only to Japan when it comes to connection speed, according to the U.S. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

      But various international organizations say regulations in cyberspace which Koreans appear to accept without problems are forms of suppressing freedom of speech. Since 2005, Reporters Without Borders has placed Korea on its Internet censorship ratings list along with Bahrain, Russia and Sri Lanka, downgrading it from 34th place in 2005 to 69th in 2009 in its press freedom ranking.

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