Bracing for a ‘silver revolution’Minister of Strategy and Finance Bahk Jae-wan said yesterday that Korea needs a qualitative change in government policies to prepare for the “age of centenarians,” stressing that “a lifetime of six decades will soon be extended to a lifetime of ten decades.” The government reportedly plans to forge a comprehensive set of measures to brace for a society full of 100-year-olds.
Given the rapid aging of our population, the government’s move sounds a little belated. Private banking companies have rolled up their sleeves to meet the challenge by setting up various institutes for centenarian studies or retirement rethinks.
Half of the Korean males born in 1971 are expected to live until 94, and their female counterparts until over 96. So far, a long life was perceived as a blessing in our society. With an age of centenarians imminent, such a perception changes too. Research by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs on the attitudes of 1,000 men and women between the age of 30 and 69 revealed that 43.3 percent do not regard longevity of up to 90 or 100 years as a blessing. Only 28.7 percent said it is a blessing. That is a gloomy self-prognosis.
A much longer life is no doubt a boon brought on by remarkable advancements in medical science. But it could be a terrible tragedy for some, as well. If they were lucky enough to retire at 60, they must live for 40 additional years. Without enough money and health, longevity can turn to torture, not to speak of the solitude that can be the accompaniment to the twilight of life.
The age of centenarians will most likely be accompanied by profound social shocks. The national pension and healthcare systems are based on an average life expectancy of 80. The mass aging of baby boomers heralds an era of intractable problems, including personal financial bankruptcies, poverty and suicides of senior citizens, not to mention inevitable generational conflicts.
However, we should not run scared. More developed countries are finding a way out of the conundrum by treating senior citizens as an indispensable social asset - by transforming the “grey shock” into a “jovial silver society” - with a consensus that longevity is a blessing although it does needs to be paid for.
We should change our attitudes about older people and revamp government policies. Both the government and businesses must figure out how to take advantage of their wisdom and experience. Only then we can achieve a “silver revolution.”