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'Spoon class theory' gains force in Korea

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By Choi Sung-jin

Some Americans or Britons are born with silver spoons in their mouths. In Korea, people can be born with spoons made of far more varied materials, ranging from gold, silver and bronze to clay.

This "class theory of spoons" assumes a person's economic status is determined by their parents' assets. If income polarization continues unabated, the days will soon come when some are born with a platinum spoon.

The share of assets Korean people accumulate through gifts and inheritance from their parents is lower than that of other industrial countries. But amid rapid population aging and low economic growth, the importance of inherited assets is growing compared with income made from a person's own efforts, an economist said.

In the 1980s, the share of assets contributed by gifts and inheritance was 27 percent, but the comparable share rose to 29 percent in the 1990s and to 42 percent in the 2000s, according to a recent paper by Kim Nak-nyeon, an economics professor at Dongkuk University. The share is still lower than advanced countries such as Germany (42.5 percent), France (47 percent) and Britain (56.5 percent).

Prof. Kim said, however, the contribution of bequeathed assets will climb rapidly to catch up with the European countries, citing the graying of society and sluggish economic growth as the two biggest reasons.

"So far, Korea's low mortality, rapid economic growth and high savings rate have allowed people to stand on their own economically without much financial help from their parents," Kim said. "Now, however, all the three indices are going in the opposite direction from the past, as aging of the population pulls down investment, savings and economic growth rates. Inherited assets will become much more important than savings from one's own efforts."



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