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Friday 14 Dec 2018 | 09:03 | SYDNEY
Friday 14 Dec 2018 | 09:03 | SYDNEY

South Korea: A bad place to grow old



3 October 2013 15:41

Marty Harris is an assistant digital editor at the Lowy Institute.

AgeWatch International has released the first ever global ageing index, which ranks countries based on the quality of life and well-being of their elderly populations. The index is based on 13 indicators for income security, health status, employment and education, and 'enabling environment'. The latter refers to things such as physical safety and access to public transport.

The results are mostly predictable — Norway and Sweden top the list, Afghanistan is ranked last — but what is noteworthy is South Korea's result. Ranked 67 out of 91 countries surveyed, South Korea scores lower than Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and China, despite being far wealthier than those countries. As the graph below shows, it's income security for the elderly where South Korea struggles. 

Some explanation for South Korea's position is given in the report:

It is the lowest-ranked OECD country, and has the lowest ranking in Asia for income security. This apparently perverse outcome is largely explained by the very high levels of poverty among older Koreans; 45 per cent of people over 60 live on less than 50 per cent of median household income and receive 67 per cent of average population income. These differences in the experience of poverty between older people and the rest of the Korean population are substantially greater than the OECD average.

According to the OECD’s Pensions at a Glance 2011, “Korea’s very high old-age poverty rate is primarily due to the fact that the public pension scheme was introduced in 1988, so retirees in the mid-2000s had little or no entitlements”. Poverty among older Koreans is seen as a major challenge for policy makers.

Lily Kuo over at Quartz offers a bit more information: South Korean 'companies often force employees in their 50s to retire, out of preference for younger workers.'

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