No. 1 among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
No.1 in aging population, No.1 in elderly poverty rate, No.1 in elderly suicide rate
By Jiyeon Shin, Voluntary Activist
We are only in the beginning of the New Year but “Dying alone”, “Korean working population’s average age will be 50 in 2045” and “elderly suicide rate” are the news shown by TV. It is a gloomy news that the elderly population will exceed the working population in 30 years and the potential growth rate will decline within 10 years.
The ratio of aging population in Korea was already 24.46% in Fall 1995 which exceeds the world average of 19.1%. After becoming an aging society in 2000, the reported figures were 41.3% in 2003, 44.1% in 2004, 47.3% in 2005, 51.0% in 2006, 55.1% in 2007, 59.3% in 2008, 63.6% in 2009, 67.7% in 2010, 72.4% in 2011 and 77.7% in 2012 and moreover, Korea is predicted to become an aged society by 2019 and super-aging society by 2026. On the contrary to Japan which is expected to take 36 years to become a super-aging society, Korea is expected to take approximately 27 years.
The problem of the elderly suicide rate is even severe. Such an unexpected figure motivated me to write this article. Donghyeon Kim, a professor at the Social Medicine Department of Hallym University College of Medicine, pointed out the problem through Hankyorae newspaper as below.
“In other countries, the suicide rate is high in 10~30s which usually decreases when they become old. If it increases, it only increases slightly. However, the suicide rate of Korea constantly increases from teens and when the age reaches 65 the increase rate becomes so high that the rate is not even comparable to other age groups. In the age group between 10s and 30s, the suicide rate is lower than Norway and Italia. In other countries, the suicide rate after 60s is 20~40 per 100,000 people. However, it far exceeds 100 in Korea. After the age of 75, it even exceeds 160. Japan, our neighbor country, shows a peak in the suicide rate among the mid 40s but the rate decreases afterwards. This shows that Korea has reached an unbeatable position in the field of the elderly suicide."
What are the causes of such a high elderly suicide rate? The first is poverty and there can also be others such as conflict in family, loneliness, poor measures of the government and diseases such as depression, cancer and dementia.
Currently Korea is under a very severe condition that the half of elderly population is poor and the elderly poverty rate amounts to 45.1, which is three times the OECD average of 13.5.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare legislated laws for the welfare of the elderly in 2007 in order to enhance their health and welfare. The Ministry is making effort to establish and operate specialized institutions for creating jobs for seniors, support professions, promote elderly discount, support old people living alone and establish welfare organizations for the elderly. But it is doubtful whether the political and administrative support of the nation and local governments are meeting the required standard.
The dependent senior population is increasing while economically active people are decreasing in accordance with the trend of low birth rate and aging population which results in a rapid increase in the sustenance allowance and medical expenses of seniors. This also becomes a burden to the next generation. Thus, supporting old people should be understood as a shared responsibility of the country, society and family. The government has been reluctant to enhance the welfare probably due to the impediment of the economic development and increase in the tax burden.
Park Geun-hye, a president-elect, said “It is an obvious responsibility of the nation to guarantee happy lives of the elderly.” and emphasized that “the country will do its best”. “As Korea entered the aging society, how to spend the time happy and satisfactory at old ages has become a national task”. She continued “the foundation of policies is to support the elderly to live comfortably without worries” and suggested elderly welfare policies such as △ introduction of basic pension △ Increase in job opportunities △ 100% financial support on 4 serious illness △ Reduction on implant expenses △ Provision of long-term care insurance for seniors with dementia and physical disabilities △ Provision of long term care insurance for seniors living alone and the disabled in the second highest level
It is likely that quite a number of people over 50 actively supported Park because of these types of dream-like-policies. It is true that only looking at these policies make us think South Korea can be a country for the elderly. From now on, we should keep our eyes on how the Park’s welfare of the elderly is realized and what kinds of policies are prepared for the poor seniors.
We hope user-centered-welfare policies are carried out for the elderly and the dishonor of being No.1 in aging population, elderly poverty rate and suicide rate to be removed.
Attached files are the data provided by Statistics Korea.