2017-12-07 16:50
[ED] Living too long
Koreans’ life expectancy exceeds OECD average

Koreans have started to outlive people from other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

A Statistics Korea survey released Tuesday showed that Korean females born in 2016 are expected to live 85.4 years, and males 79.3 years. The figures are 2.3 years longer for females and 1.4 years longer for males than the OECD average.

Koreans are able to live longer because of the overall improvements in living conditions and medical advancements. A long life is not a blessing for everyone, though. It is worrisome that while Koreans are living longer than before, the quality of life of the elderly remains at the bottom.

The acute plight faced by elderly Koreans can be seen in a recent OECD report. The report said 42.7 percent of the nation’s population aged 66-72 are living in relative poverty. The situation is more serious among those aged 76 and above, with 60.2 percent struggling with poverty. The figures are about four times higher that the OECD average for both age groups.

Living too long without proper means of support can bring severe consequences. It is no wonder that Korea also has the highest rate of elderly suicide among OECD countries.

The long life expectancy of women requires special attention from policymakers. Korean women are ranked fourth highest on the life expectancy index among OECD counties. This underlines the need for women to find ways to support themselves in their advanced years. But many choose to leave their careers after starting a family. Those who re-enter the workforce after childbirth are usually stuck with part-time or irregular positions.

The Moon Jae-in administration has made some progress in caring for the elderly. Recently it announced a plan to boost support for dementia patients and their families, including the establishment of new care centers nationwide and more clinics specializing in the illness. The government also pledged to raise the basic elderly pension to 250,000 won per month in 2018. But these measures will not be enough to ensure a decent living for older Koreans.

Korea has become an aged society, where more than 14 percent of the population is over 65. One of the main reasons for the high elderly poverty rate is a weak social security system. Since many Koreans retire without sufficient pension, they are left to fend for themselves, but that is not easy in a country with scarce job opportunities for people over a certain age.

The Presidential Committee on the Aging Society and Population Policy, led by three-term lawmaker Rep. Kim Sang-hee, will hold a briefing later this month. The committee should place priority on coming up with measures to expand job opportunities and vocation training for older people.