The average annual income of Korean senior citizens is only 67 percent of the average household income overall, putting the country at the bottom of OECD member nations, whose average is 82.4 percent. The poverty rate among elderly Koreans is 45 percent, the highest in the OECD, where the average is 13.5 percent. Nearly half of all senior citizens in Korea are living in poverty.
The biggest cause of poverty among the elderly is the fact that only 32 percent of them receive a public pension. Korea launched the national pension system in 1988, so people now over 80 had no chance to apply, and many younger people did not bother to make monthly payments. And those who did only get meager benefits since they only paid for a short period.
The average national pension payout for senior citizens is a mere W280,000 (US$1=W1,136) a month, which is not enough to get by on.
Koreans tend to fall on hard times in later life because they spent most of their earnings on educating their children and then paying for their wedding. Parents pay for children's private crammer lessons as they prepare for university entrance exams, and when they enter university, they finance their tuition and language-exchange programs overseas, and provide other necessary supports until they graduate and find a job.
Then come the wedding expenses. The average cost of a wedding almost tripled from W76.39 million in 1999 to W209 million this year. Parents with a son sell their homes to raise money to buy an apartment where he can live with his bride, and parents with a daughter take out loans using their homes as collateral to pay for wedding gifts. Korean parents are perhaps the only ones in the world who feel obliged to take care of their children to that extent, and Korean kids are also probably the only ones in the world who think their parents are duty-bound to pay for their wedding and buy them a home.
Children who have been raised that way will end up becoming parents themselves. Perhaps many young Koreans are thinking twice about having kids because they are afraid of falling into the same trap. The time has come to change this ludicrous custom where parents sell their future to support their children, while kids think it is only natural for parents to make these sacrifices.