SOUTH KOREA – In early 2018, South Korea took its place in the international spotlight by hosting the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. The country opened its doors to millions of people from all over the globe who tuned in to watch the sports festival. This rare and prestigious opportunity gave viewers at home a glimpse into life in South Korea. However, it also raised questions as to what occurs in South Korea when the cameras aren’t rolling. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in South Korea.
Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in South Korea
- South Korea is one of the most difficult countries to obtain refugee status. In 2018 the government refused to grant asylum to many refugees who came from the war-torn of Yemen; these refugees had to settle for limited, one-year humanitarian permits. Meanwhile, those already living on South Korea’s one-year permits are subjected to life without important resources like medical care and education.
- The fertility rate is reaching a record low. Given the poor job market for young adults and the societal expectations placed on women in South Korea, many couples are getting married later in life and choosing not to have children. As a result, South Korea is expected to experience an even sharper decline in fertility rates than has occurred in recent years. With women having an average of 0.96 children, South Korea will inevitably face a decrease in government funds, causing payments into social welfare programs like pensions and healthcare to decrease with the population.
- A surplus of recyclable materials has caused employment problems. South Korea is one of Asia’s biggest exporters of recycled plastic goods, which are frequently sold to China. However, after applying green initiatives to cut down on plastic waste in China, South Korea was forced to deal with an excess amount of recyclable materials. Recycling facilities in South Korea had to cut back the wages of their workers, and some were laid off because of the economic strain on business.
- South Korea has the longest working hours of any developed nation. In 2014, it was estimated that 46.3 percent of the average week is spent working in South Korea, with 47 percent of working individuals working 48 hours a week. Intensified workplace stress has been suggested as a reason behind South Korea’s disturbingly high rates of suicide.
- Big businesses are increasing wage gaps. South Korea is home to major tech companies that account for a large sum of South Korea’s economic earnings. Smaller companies, which employ 90 percent of South Korea’s workforce, model their businesses after the larger conglomerates and often leave a negative impact on South Korea’s economy. This problem has caused a 63 percent wage gap between big businesses and their competitors, limited job growth and increasing unemployment rates among South Korea’s youth.
- South Korea’s prisons are some of the most overcrowded in the world. The country’s prisons exceed the standard amount of prisoners by 21.8 percent while averaging 2,000 people per prison. The average prison can only accommodate 1,099 prisoners. This issue has been linked to the rise of poverty-induced crimes and has been caused in part by a lack of government funding for prisons.
- South Korea’s president has changed the approach to big businesses. After the jailing of South Korea’s previous president, Moon Jae-in was elected president of South Korea in 2017. As president, Moon has taken on a strong opposition to big business involvement in government dealings and has increased taxes on the wealthy businesses whose tax rates were previously being cut by the government. In addition, Moon has increased the minimum wage in an effort to hold big businesses accountable for their practices.
- Attempts at peace with North Korea are underway. While the threat of attack from North Korea looms over South Korea, many citizens remain unbothered. 150 reported attacks have been reported involving North and South Korea since the Korean War in the 1950s. While South Korea has taken precautions with its defense, politicians have taken major strides in attempting to achieve peace with the feuding nations.
- A large income disparity exists in South Korea. The richest 20 percent of the population makes almost six times more than the poorest 20 percent of the population. Much of this is a result of the cost and demand of a private education in South Korea and the devaluing of high school education. In South Korea, 82 percent of adults have private college educations, leaving those with high school diplomas at higher risk for unemployment.
- South Korea’s elderly account for a majority of its poverty. Given the lack of jobs for the elderly and the lack of savings due to expensive education and their children’s rising debt, 48 percent of South Korea’s elderly live in poverty conditions. Some even find themselves at local South Korean food banks, where they receive what is sometimes their only meal of the day.
Over the past few years, South Korea has seen economic growth, a costly education standard leading to high unemployment numbers and a decrease in the fertility rate which could further affect living conditions. However, President Moon has proven that he is a president for the people. Moon has made several initiatives to counteract these issues while negotiating peace treaties with its neighbor to the north, proving that South Korea is in good hands.
– Catherine Wilson