Wealth disparity and dreams deferred
When I was young, one of the questions that confused me was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” With the growing income gap these days, that question may be more difficult to answer than in the past.
Recently, Daegu MBC and OhmyNews conducted a survey of sixth graders at two elementary schools in Daegu about their ambitions, and it produced an interesting result. School A is located in the most competitive, affluent district in the city, while School B is in the outskirts in an area mostly filled with rental apartments.
At School A, 47 percent of the students said they wanted to become professionals - a doctor, lawyer, judge, professor, diplomat or public official. In contrast, teacher was the most favored profession at School B. Students at School A said they aspired to be United Nations secretary general, a robotics engineer, consultant or CEO. But no one at School B had such dreams. Instead, they chose baker, chef, nail artist, kick boxer, animal trainer and animal breeder.
At School A, 86 percent of the fathers are college graduates, whereas 67 percent of the fathers at School B are high school graduates or lower. At School A, 35 percent of fathers are professionals and high-ranking officials, compared to only 3.6 percent of the fathers at School B.
It’s clear that social class affects a student’s dreams and ambitions. But have children begun to prioritize income and job stability, taking their talent and abilities into account, leading them not to dream of the unattainable from the beginning? Or is it a result of the knowledge they’ve acquired from their environment?
It’s getting increasingly hard to attain success with a humble background. According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, 78.8 percent of Koreans in their 20s to 40s believe that a child’s future status is determined by the status of the parents, 75.5 percent think that it is hard to get recognition corresponding to their efforts and 64.4 percent believe that it is hard to catch up once they fall behind. Most disturbingly, 71 percent of respondents in their 40s said they believe there are no second chances.
In resolving our problems with the income gap, the important thing is to have a fair competition. Individuals need the courage not to get frustrated, and society needs to provide appropriate support. We must not accept a reality in which class differences affect dreams and visions. A society that does not allow children to dream freely has no hope.
by Bae Myung-bok
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.