4 in 10 young Koreans aren’t seeking medical care when sick

Posted on : 2024-02-14 17:05 KST Modified on : 2024-02-14 17:05 KST
A new report argues that Korea’s long working hours are a barrier to health upkeep for individuals, and points to social isolation as a detriment to health as well
(Getty Images Bank)
(Getty Images Bank)

Four out of ten young South Koreans reported not visiting a hospital when they were sick or injured due to time constraints and difficulty affording medical costs, survey results show.

An examination Tuesday of a recently published National Youth Policy Institute study on “youth poverty and ideas for establishing a self-sufficiency safety net system” showed 41.6% of survey respondents answering affirmatively when they were asked whether they had decided not to go to the hospital despite being sick or injured during the past year.

The online survey was conducted between April and June of last year and polled 4,000 people aged 19 to 34 nationwide. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

The most frequently cited reason for not visiting a hospital was “not having enough time,” which was given by 47.1% of respondents. Another 33.7% said they did not go because they “could not afford the hospital costs,” while 9.3% said they “prefer to simply buy non-prescription medications at the pharmacy.”

When asked if they had undergone a physical at a hospital, medical examination center, or public health center in the past year, over half of respondents — 52.9% — said they had not.

In terms of the proportion of their monthly expenses spent on medical costs in the past year, a majority 54% said the level was “5% or less.” Another 18.2% gave a level of “6%–10%,” while 13.2% reported no medical expenditures.

Forty percent of respondents said medical costs were a strain on their living expenses, while 30.9% said they were not a strain.
1 in 10 say they have “no one to ask for help” when sick

An investigation of the young people’s social and cultural capital found 15.2% of them reporting they had no one around them to ask for help when they were sick. Such responses were even more common among respondents who had less education (23.7%) or were poor (22.3%).

Among those who said they did have someone, 52.4% reported that they had not asked anyone they knew for help when they were sick during the past year. 

At 46.1% of respondents, the greatest quantity of those surveyed said that they only had one to two people they could rely on emotionally, followed by those who reported having three to five such people in their lives (31.9%), and those who reported having none (13.2%). 

Those whose highest educational attainment was a high school diploma or less and those who work on an hourly basis were relatively more likely to report having no one to lean on for emotional support, at 25.2% and 20.1%, respectively. 

Of those surveyed, 57.8% reported feeling depressed, and 37.1% reported having experienced suicidal thoughts. 

“Depressive disorder and suicide ideation appeared frequently among those with lower levels of education who are socioeconomically marginalized,” the researchers wrote. “This points to a need to further strengthen social assistance to such groups.”

As for what health care assistance policy should be prioritized, 50.6% of respondents picked expanding free health checkups for those in their 20s and 30s. Expanding health care cost assistance for young adults was chosen as the most urgent health care policy for young adults, with 32.8% of respondents choosing it. 

Long working hours pose detriment to maintaining health

The report’s authors pointed out how social factors contribute to health problems among younger Koreans.

“With the exception of their ‘young’ physical fitness, young people are in fact exposed to social hazards at relatively high rates due to their social activities. For this reason, factors like deteriorating mental health and workplace disasters must be considered in young people’s right to health care utilization,” the report read. “Measures for providing financial assistance for health care to vulnerable young people must be devised, and policies tailored to age cohort, gender, employment status, and region must be provided.”

The report made a special note of Korea’s notoriously long working hours. 

“Korea’s long working hours — far and away the longest in the OECD — function as a major obstacle for young people in maintaining their health,” the report read. “More fundamentally, efforts to improve the overall social structure in a way that would afford individuals the time to freely manage their health, as well as take part in social relations and leisure activities.”

By Lee You-jin, staff reporter

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

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