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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on April 4)

All Headlines 06:59 April 04, 2016

Blessing or curse?
Korea ill-prepared for aged society

Korea is undergoing rapid demographic changes such as the fast aging of the population and an increase in the number of multicultural families, but it would not be wrong to say that both the government and society are not yet coping with the changes properly.

Of all, the most serious problem is aging. It is normal for a society like Korea to get increasingly older in accordance with its economic advancement. Nevertheless, the pace of aging is too fast.

Government statistics show that the proportion of over-65s among the total population stood at 13.1 percent in 2015, compared with 3.8 percent in 1980. Korea is now on the threshold of becoming an "aged" society, a term used to denote a population of which 14 percent or more are over 65.

The government estimates that the proportion of the population who are senior citizens, which reached 7 percent in 2000 to make Korea an "aging" society, is set to increase to 24.3 percent by 2030, 32.3 percent by 2040 and 40.1 percent by 2060.

Besides denting economic vitality, this fast aging of the population will cause many problems. One outstanding problem is poverty, which is hitting almost half of Korean over-65s. The comparable average ratio for the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is 12.6 percent. This wide gap illustrates the difficult situation our senior citizens are in.

Many of them fall into poverty because they are unable to earn enough and lack a social safety net. In addition, the transformation of the family system -- including favoring a nuclear family and an increase in one-person households -- and reduced willingness by the young to support their parents are adding to the woes of the Korean elderly.

Senior citizens often resort to extreme means like crime or suicide. Police figures show that the crime rate among the elderly is growing and, more seriously, their offences include heinous crimes like murder, robbery, sexual violence and arson.

One more sad aspect of the aging society is that more senior citizens are struggling with adversity like poverty, illness and loneliness end their own lives. Korea's overall suicide rate is already one of the world's highest, and it is more serious among the elderly: more than 116 per 100,000 Koreans aged over 70 die by suicide each year, 10 times the OECD average.

Government officials, politicians and media make a fuss whenever the problems of an aging society manifest themselves -- like the discovery of a body of a senior citizen who had been living alone or elderly parents who are abused by their adult children. The current situation tells us that they have done little to fix the fundamental problem.

A comprehensive plan at the national level is long overdue to tackle Korea’s aging based on the realization that senior citizens in Korea have become one of the most vulnerable segments in society. The extension of Koreans' life spans should be a blessing, not a curse.
(END)

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