S. Korea ranks worst in OECD for poverty in old age

Posted on : 2021-09-30 17:44 KST Modified on : 2021-09-30 17:44 KST
The country is on track to become a super-aged society by 2025, but the economic situation for South Korea’s seniors shows little sign of improving
(Kim Myoung-jin/The Hankyoreh)
(Kim Myoung-jin/The Hankyoreh)

South Korea recorded the highest elderly poverty rate among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member nations, amid marginal improvements in that area.

The reporting rate of elder abuse has also been on the rise as both the proportion of older adults in the total population and the remaining life expectancy of older adults increase each year.

Ahead of International Day for Older Persons on Saturday, Statistics Korea released a report Wednesday that detailed statistics regarding older adults for 2021. The numbers showed a total of 8,537,000 South Koreans aged 65 or older this year, representing 16.5% of the total population.

The UN uses the term “aging society” to refer to a population where more than 7% of all people are aged 65 and older. An “aged society” is a society in which 14% or more of the population is over 65, while a “super-aged society” is a society in which 20% or more of the population is 65 or older.

South Korea became an aged society in 2017. Statistics Korea estimated that it would be a super-aged society by 2025 — with 10,511,000 aged 65 and older, or 20.3% of the population — amid continued growth in the older adult population.

The economic situation for South Korea’s seniors shows little sign of improving.

The relative poverty rate, defined as the percentage earning less than 50% of the median income, stood at 43.2% as of 2019 for South Koreans of retirement age (66 and up). The rate has been improving annually since 2016, but only at a very slow pace.

South Korea’s elderly poverty rate was the highest among OECD members by a large margin. An examination of 2018 levels, which allowed for international comparison, showed South Korea’s elderly poverty rate at 43.4%, followed by Latvia (39%), Estonia (37.6%), and Mexico (26.6%).

Public efforts by the state to address poverty among seniors have been relatively ineffectual.

The only real expansion of senior welfare under the Moon Jae-in administration has been an increase of 100,000 won (US$84) in the basic pension. The basic livelihood security system applies to people who earn 30% or less than the median income — which makes a difference in the case of the severely poor but does little to improve the elderly poverty rate.

“Since South Korea has such a high aging rate with so many seniors receiving no pension or only a very small amount, the government should be spending money right now to provide additional income for poor seniors,” said Ku In-hoe, a professor of social welfare at Seoul National University.

“The current administration, unfortunately, hasn’t taken any ambitious steps to deal with poverty among older persons, while discussions on reforming the national pension have been put off in a slapdash way,” he said.

Remaining life expectancy has also been growing each year for South Korean seniors. As of 2019, those who reach the age of 65 were estimated to live an additional 21.3 years, while those who reached 75 were estimated to live another 13.2 years — both estimates 0.5 years longer than the year before.

At 23.4 years for women and 19.1 years for men, the remaining life expectancy of a South Korean 65-year-old ranked in the top tier among OECD members. For South Korean women, the remaining life expectancy for a 65-year-old was third highest after Japan (24.6 years) and France (23.9 years).

Remaining life expectancy refers to the average number of additional years a person is expected to live at a particular point in time.

The percentage of seniors reporting experiences of abuse has also risen sharply. As of 2019, the rate of reported experiences with elder abuse was 68.2 per 100,000 people; by 2020, that rate was up to 77.

That amounted to a 39.5% rise in the five years since 2015, when the rate was recorded at 55.2 per 100,000.

The reported elder abuse rate among women was 102.1 cases per 100,000 — 2.3 times higher than the 44.1 for males. Among seniors aged 80 and older, 122.5 out of every 100,000 reported experiences with elder abuse.

By Lee Ji-hye, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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