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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 9)

All News 09:14 September 09, 2022

'You're still not old enough'
Official age of senior citizens should be raised

The Korea Development Institute (KDI) has proposed to raise gradually the standard age of senior citizenship, set at 65 now. If Korea sticks to its current standard, the nation's burden of supporting the elderly population will reach the highest level among OECD member countries by 2054, the KDI said. So, the state think tank called for raising the age at which one becomes a senior citizen by one year every decade -- ending at 74 in 2100. Given Korea's rapidly aging population, the nation should no longer avoid the issue and consider the proposal carefully.

The nation's declining birthrate and aging population are taking place at the fastest pace in the world. At the same time, the nation's life expectancy has reached the world's highest level of 83.5 years, as in Japan. In contrast, Korea's total fertility rate is the lowest worldwide, with only 0.81 babies born per woman. As the number of children dwindles and the number of older adults increases, Korea's old-age dependency ratio -- the number of people 65 and older compared to the working-age population aged 15 to 64 -- will rise to the fifth-highest level in the OECD -- 72.4 percent in 2050 -- from 32nd place and 19.4 percent in 2015.

The resulting decline in social vitality will affect consumption and production, causing problems with Korea's economic sustainability. Raising the official age of senior citizens will increase the working population to reduce the old-age dependency ratio. If the nation follows the KDI's advice, the number of senior citizens supported by 100 working-age people will remain at 60 in 2100, down 36 from 96 senior citizens if Korea maintains the current number. Public opinion seems generally positive on raising the official age of senior citizens. In a June survey, 62 percent of respondents approved of raising the standard age of senior citizens from 65 to 70.

Raising the age of senior citizens will require reorganizing the frameworks of various welfare systems. Currently, there are as many as 24 welfare programs for older adults, including a basic pension, free subway transportation and a phone bill discount. Raising the age abruptly will expand welfare blind spots, hitting the poor elderly especially hard. Policymakers must not forget that Korea's elderly poverty rate is the highest among OECD member countries. The government should start discussions immediately but move very cautiously.

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