South Korea has reached a per-capita GDP of US$20,000, while its economy is the world's 13th largest, but South Koreans are far from happy. According to a Gallup poll, the number of South Koreans who are happy about their lives decreased 10 percent between 1992 and 2010 when the country's per-capita GDP grew threefold. The country consistently ranks at the bottom in various happiness indices around the world.
The Chosun Ilbo, in conjunction with Gallup and Global Market Insight, surveyed 5,190 people in South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Denmark, and Finland on Dec. 16-24. The results show that South Koreans are fatigued by a persistent yearning for material wealth and the constant threat of an attack from North Korea. As a result, the country has the highest proportion of people wishing to emigrate among the 10 surveyed countries.
◆ Fears of North Korean Attack
South Koreans suffer from the highest level of fear of a war or terrorist attack. Asked whether they are afraid of a nuclear attack or a terrorist threat, 63.4 percent said yes. Huh Jin-jae, a director at Gallup Korea, said, "Anxiety has grown sharply in 2010 due to North Korea's attacks on the Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island, as well as increased uncertainties posed by the rise of North Korean heir Kim Jong-un."
That is significantly higher than the average of the countries surveyed (49.8 percent) and even higher than the U.S. (53.7 percent), where people are under constant threat of terrorist attacks and waging two different wars. Only 3.1 percent of South Koreans said they feel absolutely no fear of a war or terrorist attack, compared to 13 percent in the U.S.
In Vietnam, whose people experienced a prolonged war, 40 percent feel under threat from another country, while in Finland only 25 percent of its people suffer such anxieties.
◆ Fixation with Money
South Koreans are fixated with wealth. A mere 7.2 percent of Koreans feel money and happiness are not related, compared to the average of 24.3 percent in the surveyed countries. But South Korea has the smallest proportion of people (7.2 percent) who say they are very happy. Most people living in happy countries according to the survey choose themselves as being probably the happiest person they know (33.9 percent).
Indonesia has the highest ratio who think of themselves as the happiest person in the world, followed by Vietnam (46.0 percent) and Malaysia (40.1 percent). Asked if they think South Koreans are happy, the highest number of people who answered no were South Korean respondents themselves (65.9 percent).
In South Korea, those in their 20s believe the country's people are least happy (74.3 percent), followed by those in their 30s (69.2 percent), 40s (64.0 percent) and 50s (55.1 percent), suggesting that younger South Koreans tend to have more negative views about life in their own country.
Brazilians are the happiest people in the world with 60 percent saying that they are happy, followed by Vietnam (49.1 percent), the U.S. (29 percent), Canada (27.7 percent), and Malaysia (26.8 percent).
But one thing Korea has is a tight social network based on solid personal ties. Some 60.3 percent of respondents said they have never experienced separation from family due to external factors, which is the highest among the countries surveyed. Also, 67.6 percent of Koreans feel that the most beloved people in their lives are their family.
Meanwhile, Koreans tend to have a negative view of rich people, with 66.4 percent believing wealthy people achieved their status through inheritance, and 57.6 percent through corruption and by other immoral means.
Most respondents abroad feel rich people became wealthy by working hard. "This means that Koreans have a double standard. They yearn to be rich while despising wealthy people," Huh said.
◆ Low Birthrate
Money is the main reason behind South Korea's low birthrate for more than half of respondents. And the country has the highest ratio of people who cite financial costs as being the biggest threat to future generations (29.8 percent).
It is the only country among the surveyed nations whose people prefer to give birth to their children in other countries. One in four South Koreans said that they want to give birth to their children abroad to give them non-Korean nationalities. Only 20.1 percent of South Koreans want to have their babies in the country, the lowest among the 10 nations.