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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Jan. 16)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:09 January 16, 2023

Not your grandparents' households

According to the latest data on the population in Korea, single- or two-person households account for more than 65 percent of all households in the country. More precisely, single-member households make up 41 percent and two-member households 24.2 percent. The traditional four-person household accounted for only 17.8 percent and three-person households 16.9 percent, according to an announcement by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety on Sunday.

The rapid rise of single-person households promises dramatic changes in consumption and leisure. Popular gifts for holidays like Chuseok or Lunar New Year these days are products and services for the lonely tribe — such as restaurant and movie tickets for one person and even shopping on one's own. Such a dramatic shift helps deepen our low birth rate even further. Last year, Korea's total fertility rate, which refers to the total number of children that would be born to each woman, was 0.75, the lowest in the world. That figure is expected to dive to 0.6 pretty soon if the government does not take any feasible measures to turn it around.

Such a seismic shift in demographics can lower the effectiveness of government policies, too. A case in point is the housing policy. Last February, President Moon Jae-in admitted to his administration's failure to meet the increasing demand for homes for people living alone. The young generation are feeling a deepening disgruntlement about uniform apartments for four-person households. That's not all. People living alone suffer disadvantages in tax benefits, including in year-end tax settlements. Employees of large and small companies also demand appropriate changes to a range of benefits mostly geared to married couples.

The same goes for senior citizens who live alone. As they can die in an accident, medical support and welfare services for them need to be expanded, not to mention security services to protect them from crimes.

According to a survey by the Seoul Institute, a research center under the Seoul Metropolitan government, the happiness index for single households is only 5.7, even lower than 6.4 for members of larger households. That calls for emotional services for them to overcome loneliness or depression. The UK government in 2018 appointed a minister for loneliness to help its senior citizens.

A drastic increase in foreign workers is another challenge. Recent data from Statistics Korea says 840,000 of them are working in Korea. As the government prepares to ease requirements for visas for them, their number will certainly rise. But discrimination against them must be tackled at the same time.

The demographic shifts and the structural changes in households demand corresponding changes in residential, tax, welfare and labor fields. The rise of single-person households will pose many challenges to our society. We urge the government to draw up wise policies to reflect such changes as soon as it can.

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