[Letters] An old-age dilemma

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[Letters] An old-age dilemma

In the June 22 article, “SNU plans short-term classes on retirement,” the writer states that the project is being pursued as “[Korea] rapidly develops into an aging society.” By the most widely accepted official definitions, Korea already is defined as an “aging society,” and is rapidly headed toward being an “aged society.”

The two are quite different: the former is one in which the elderly make up at least 7 percent of the population, while in the latter the elderly make up 14 percent or more. According to government sources cited by the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Korea became an aging society way back in 2000 and is set to surpass the second threshold in 2018!

What took France 115 years and the United States 71 years to do, Korea will achieve in just 18 years. In fact, Korea is on track to becoming an “aged society” even faster than Japan, and leaping up into “super-aged” status -in which 20 percent or more are elderly - by 2026, making this country the most rapidly aging in the world.

It doesn’t stop there. Based on current trends, analysts project that by 2050, the elderly will make up a whopping 38 percent of the Korean population, an ominous ratio for which nobody has yet even coined a name.

As one can imagine, the ramifications of this rapid aging trend are daunting, and they creep into many parts of society, from the provision of health care and medicine to education, welfare, elderly care and the economy.

The demand for pensions and other old-age payouts is expected to soar, while the number of working-age adults able to support the elderly will nose-dive. Nowadays, experts say there are about 7.2 working adults to support each elderly Korean, but by 2050 that ratio is forecast to plummet to 1:1, and CSIS predicts that government outlays for old-age benefits will exceed 25 percent of GDP by mid-century, based on realistic estimates.

Seoul National University’s leaders are right on the ball on researching ways to help the elderly live a fruitful retirement life. They might also want to pitch in their ace economists to help the government figure out how to pay for these old-age pensioners’ benefits.

Joel Levin, Seoul, Korea
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