[FOUNTAIN]Live longer, live betterAccording to criteria set down by the United Nations, Korea officially became an aging society in 2000. That event occurred because the number of people age 65 and older exceeded 7 percent of our nation's population.
The Korea Development Institute has since recommended that Korea take measures to prevent the negative effects of aging, chiefly by observing what has happened in Japan, which is suffering from a similar problem. As a result, the institute has proposed various measures.
One of the reasons why the Japanese economy is moving backward is because the number of working people there is declining while the number of idle people is expanding. The aged have limited incomes, they fall ill easily and they typically pay a great deal of money for medical treatment. Thus, they are cautious about spending, and such an attitude contracts the nation's economy further. To help matters, the Japanese government is making efforts to give jobs to older people so they can contribute to the nation's economy by working and actively consuming.
In the scientific view, the average span of human life has lengthened, due to improvements in preventive medicine, hygiene and nutrition, rather than through the development of remedies or cures. As living conditions rapidly improved, couples had more children than before. Hence, the number of children who survived to grow up increased greatly, creating a baby boom.
As the infant mortality rate plunged, couples decided to have fewer children. The baby boom generation is now old, and its members have fewer sons and daughters of working age to support them.
According to the Korea Development Institute's calculations, 10 people of working age supported one elderly person in 2000. But unless other conditions are changed, the institute says that five people of working age will have to support one elderly person in 2017.
The words "unless other conditions are changed" neglects developmental life sciences. Due to the advancements of life science technology, elderly people will be healthy enough to work in the 21st century.
An excellent work force will be wasted if we prevent older but healthy people from working due to a mandatory retirement age.
Of course, there will be many people who find new careers to work in after retirement. But society should actively give more chances to the elderly if they are healthy and able.
The national pension system also should be reformed. The system should be adjusted according to the expanding life expectancy.
I have always recommended to my friends that they plan their lives under the assumption they will live active and healthy lives until age 90.
In this period of great revolution in the life sciences, human beings should be able to keep their health, and at the same time should save some money and be well-prepared for the changes ahead.
The writer is a professor of medical science at Seoul National University.
by Lee Hong-kyu