Make our senior years golden

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Make our senior years golden

In Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Britain, the United States and France, retirement suggests freedom. But for more than half of the Korean population, the word conjures images of economic hardship ahead, according to a global survey of 17 countries by HSBC Insurance. Life after retirement also stirs fear and loneliness - all negative prospects. The fragile welfare protection offered in Korea also exacerbates feelings of insecurity. Middle-aged Koreans may also be feeling more self-conscious and less secure now that the economy has slowed from the rapid pace they were used to in their younger days.

The practice of spending a majority of income on a child’s education also adds to the poor financial outlook. According to the National Statistical Office, Koreans spent 21 trillion won ($19.4 billion) on private tuition last year. Education spending for a family of two or more comprised 13 percent of their total household expenses last year, second only to food, which accounted for 15 percent. In 2003, the figure was 11 percent, the fourth largest household expense after transportation.

Meanwhile, a survey by the Ministry of Gender, Equality and Family showed that a man spends an average of 81.87 million won on average to get married and a woman spends 29.36 million won. Some couples may manage this on their own, but mostly it is up to the parents to pick up the bill.

After educating and marrying their children off, Korean parents have little money to spend on themselves, let alone plan for their future. Moreover, the age at which their children find a job is being delayed. Only half of college students graduate in four years because they go overseas for language study or seek internships. And more young adults are living with their parents even after 30 because they are not financially independent enough to start a family.

The retirement age is from 55 to 58 on average. It is no wonder middle-aged people are afraid for their future. At the same time, their lives are getting longer. Life expectancy in Korea is 80 years, another two decades after retirement. Yet their savings are paltry. For people in this age group, savings made up just 2.8 percent of their income last year, less than half of the 6.1 percent within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. We must be prepared to enter our senior years knowing that our children no longer can be relied upon for support. The government, too, should be more aggressive in preparing for an aging society. We all deserve to live a comfortable life as we age.
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