More Older People Struggle to Look After Grandchildren

      January 14, 2012 08:13

      A growing number of Korean children are being looked after by their grandparents because their parents are divorced. According to a 2010 government survey, 0.4 percent or 69,175 households in the country were headed by grandparents, up 19.1 percent from 2005. Divorce and remarriage of biological parents was the major reason with 53.2 percent, followed by disappearance of biological parents with 14.7 percent.

      Because most parents make no financial contribution, many grandparents struggle to make ends meet. Experts believe households headed by grandparents will become a serious structural problem in the near future as the divorce rate soars and the population ages.

      These households have more problems than other low-income families. "In addition to financial difficulties, households headed by grandparents have more complex problems such as health and generational conflicts in the family," said Kim Eun-ji of the Korean Women's Development Institute. The average age of grandparents in these setups was 72.6, and that of the grandchildren they looked after 13.3. In many cases no one in the house has a job, either because they are too young or too old, so they rely on benefits from the government and charities.

      Even if they had a job, 20.2 percent were unskilled workers and only 4.2 percent were permanently employed.

      The average monthly income of grandparent-headed households is W597,000, only 40 percent of the W1.4 million minimum cost of living for a four-person household in Korea this year. No wonder then that 66.2 percent of grandparents in the survey said financial problems from raising their grandchildren are the most difficult part.

      Other difficulties cited were disciplining children due to the generation gap (11.5 percent) and preparing the future of the children (10 percent). Many grandparents had health problems, with 40.8 percent suffering from chronic illness for six months or longer, and 33.1 percent battling frequent sickness.

      Many of such households experience complex problems at multiple levels. "There is risk of a vicious circle within households headed by grandparents, where the caretakers are burdened by old age, child rearing and daily survival and the children are pushed prematurely into the labor market while being deprived of opportunities to higher education," said Prof. Kim Hye-young of Sookmyung Women's University.

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