South Korean youngsters back at the bottom of OECD happiness rank

Posted on : 2016-05-03 17:09 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Study finds that as young people get older, they identify money as the key to a happy family
Happiness index for OECD countries. Data: Yonsei University Institute for Social Development
Happiness index for OECD countries. Data: Yonsei University Institute for Social Development

Choi Sae-ha, an 18-year-old girl in the second year of high school, has never thought about killing herself, but she does not feel particularly happy, either. “Whether I’m at home or at school, I have way too much studying to do,” she said. Her friends feel the same way.

The older that Choi gets, the more importance she places on money. “There are a lot of times I don’t have enough money to buy the clothes that I want,” she said. “Sometimes I‘m not able to buy the school supplies I need either.”

South Korean young people feel the least happy of any members of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), a recent study found. One out of every five have had suicidal thoughts, and the older they are, the more likely they identify money as the condition for a happy family.

According to a report called The 2016 8th International Comparative Study of the Happiness Index for Children and Young People“ the subjective happiness index of young people in South Korea was 82, the lowest of the 22 members countries of the OECD covered in the study. The subjective happiness index converts individuals’ reported level of happiness into points, relative to the OECD average of 100.

The report was published on May 2 by a research team led by Yeom Yu-sik, a professor of the sociology of medicine at the Institute for Social Development at Yonsei University.

Between this past March and April, researchers surveyed the happiness index of 7,908 students around South Korea between the fourth grade of elementary school and the third grade of high school (including 2,359 elementary school students, 2,538 middle school students and 3,011 high school students). The students were asked about their satisfaction with school life, their happiness and their health.

Since the first time this survey was held in 2009 until 2014, South Korea came in at the very bottom - scoring in the 60s and 70s - for six years in a row. Last year, it managed to avoid last place, jumping to 19th place with 90.4 points, but this year it sank to the bottom again.

The country with the highest subjective happiness index this year was Spain with 118 points, with Australia and Switzerland trailing at 113. The countries with similar scores to South Korea were Canada (88) and the Czech Republic (85).

Each year, an increasing number of students are feeling suicidal urges. The percentage of high school students this year who reported having felt such urges was 26.8%, up 2.8 percentage points from last year. The percentages of middle school students (22.6%) and elementary school students (17.7%) who had felt the urge to kill themselves were up as well, by 3.1 and 3.4 percentage points, respectively.

Rather than their grades or their economic circumstances, young people’s happiness derived from their relationships with their parents. Even among students who all had average grades, 75.6% of those who had a good relationship with their fathers said they were content with their life, while only 47.7% of those who had a poor relationship with their father felt content.

Among young people from the upper class, just 49% who had a poor relationship with their mother said they were happy, while 81% who had a good relationship expressed satisfaction with their life.

The survey found, however, that young people become more inclined to think that happiness depends on money as they get older.

Fourth graders in elementary school were more likely to say that happiness required a harmonious family (37%) than money (4%). But by the first grade of high school, responses were almost the same, with 21% selecting a harmonious family and 20% selecting money.

By the second year of high school, money (21%) had taken the lead over a harmonious family (17%), and the gap widened even further in the third year of high school.

By Jeong Eun-joo, staff reporter

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