September 06, 2022 08:38
More than 9.46 million Koreans lived alone last year, surpassing 40 percent of the population for the first time, and the number of senior citizens among them increased 31 percent to 3.45 million over the last five years.
The elderly accounted for 36 percent of all single households, and their number expected to rise even further as the population ages. Many live in poverty.
According to the Korean Women's Development Institute, the average disposable income of men over 65 was W23.26 billion in 2019 and for elderly women W20.94 billion, but that fell to only W15.96 billion and W12 million for those who lived alone (US$1=W1,371).
According to Statistics Korea, 70.9 percent of households living on social welfare were one-person households as of 2021.
Many also die alone. According to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of senior citizens who died alone rose from 666 in 2015 to 1,834 last year, up around 2.8 times. Out of 2,113 unidentified people with no family contacts who died and were buried by the Seoul Metropolitan Government over the last three years, 72 percent were over 60, mostly men. Most of them died in hospital, but nearly one-third were found dead in flats or motels.
Song Jae-ryong at Kyunghee University said, "We could see a growing number of suicides or lonely deaths of senior citizens who live alone and feel emotionally isolated, so regional governments and social services must intervene and come up with solutions."
But there is very little the government is doing about this problem. Han Bok-sang (68), who lives in northeastern Seoul, had surgery for intestinal cancer last March and needs to go under the knife again but has given up due to a lack of money and an absence of anyone to look after him.
"I barely eke out a living on W500,000 a month from my pension and other handouts," Han said. "I was able to get emergency aid from the district office to finance my last surgery, but there is nobody to care for me for the 10 days after my next operation and I can't afford it, so I've given up hope."
Na Jung-hae (68) lives in a one-room flat in Jongno. "I've lived alone for 40 years and I don't talk to anyone for a week at a time," he said. "I'm afraid nobody will find me if I die alone."
Lee Byung-hoon at Chungang University said, "We need to form communities of senior citizens so they can care for each other."
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