Downwardly Mobile Millennials Depend More on Their Parents

  • By Kim Soo-hye, Son Ho-young

    March 27, 2019 08:28

    Koreans in their 20s are increasingly finding their viciously competitive years of education hardly worth the insanely long hours they put into it in the face of the desperate reality that awaits them at the end.

    The Chosun Ilbo asked 60 university students or jobseekers over last two months, and the message was clear: "Hard work alone doesn't guarantee success any more."

    Parents who went through the financial crisis in 1997 raised their children determined to give them the best possible start in life, and the luxuries of yesteryear, like English-speaking kindergartens or study abroad, became commonplace among the middle classes.

    Now a whole generation have more impressive resumes than any previous generation, but the reality they face is grimmer than ever with a deteriorating job market.

    Still, many people said parental support matters more now that it takes longer to land a job after graduation, and everything depends whether parents are willing to support their children financially through the years of looking for the perfect job, and even beyond.

    One 24-year-old woman who now works in a major conglomerate, still the great desideratum among young Korean people, can afford to put all of her salary, which is nearly W3 million, into regular savings account because her doctor father and pharmacist mother still give her a W700,000 allowance (US$1=W1,135).

    "A stable life in my opinion is living like my parents, but if you have to survive on your earnings alone, then I think moving up the ladder is impossible," she said.

    A graduate looks at a job bulletin board at Sungshin Women's University in Seoul on Feb. 21, 2019.

    Some resent these privileges. A 26-year-old woman who works in a community welfare center had to give up further study to become a licensed social worker. She could no longer depend on her father, who is a driver, and mother who works in a supermarket. "If only my parents could have supported further study," she said. "I don't want to blame my parents because I know how hard they worked. I'm just sorry that I couldn't meet their expectations." 

    One 26-year-old jobseeker grew up with a father who worked for 30 years in a public company in a provincial town. She graduated from a respectable university in Seoul, and is currently preparing to take an exam to get a media job in Seoul with a monthly allowance from her parents.

    "I thought my father was an ordinary man, but now I realize how hard it is to live even an ordinary life. I wonder if I’ll be so lucky."

    A 25-year-old student who wants to find a job in a public company, said, "I'm skeptical that I can earn as much as my father. I'm worried whether I'll even be able to get a job."

    Some parents view their children's generation with sympathy, but others criticize them for being spoiled or lack of ambition and do not understand why they complain when they grew up with so much more than the previous generation.

    The phenomenon of downwardly mobile millennials is global. The Pew Research Center in the U.S. defines millennials as people born between 1981 and 1996. They have a strong desire to express themselves, are fluent in social media, and have more university degrees than any other generation. Yet they have ever less to express and are likely to become the first generation who learned more but earn less than their parents.

    The U.K.'s Resolution Foundation in 2016 claimed that the millennials will earn 8,000 pounds less than the previous generation in their 20s. Torsten Bell at the foundation said at the time, "We've taken it for granted that each generation will do much better than the last -- earning more and enjoying a higher standard of living. But that approach risks looking complacent given the realities of recent years and prospects for the future."

    Some experts said that the malaise all started with the global financial crisis in 2008 as it has since dragged down the economy and cost many quality jobs, but in fact it started much earlier and has deep structural reasons.

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