Supporting the aging populationWe are all aware of the seriousness of our rapidly aging population. But few have viable answers to the problem. Korea is the fastest aging society in the world. With the disproportionate increase in seniors, the economy will lose vitality due to the reduced labor force and surge in the costs of social security and medical care.
The proportion of senior citizens in the total population is expected to shoot up to 32.3 percent in 2040 from today’s 11.8 percent and likely hit 40.1 percent by 2060. The average life expectancy last year was 80.7 years, and that is expected to rise further. At the current rate, the median age of Koreans will be 52.6 by 2040.
The decrease in the working population and rise in the proportion of elderly dependents translates into a heavier burden on the economy and public finance. Even as the life expectancy continues to rise, many live in poverty and the longer life span only darkens living prospects. The poverty rate of senior citizens - 45 percent among the aged population - is the highest among the member countries of the OECD. According to a survey by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the index evaluating post-retirement plans averaged 55.2 out of 100, suggesting that most are poorly prepared for late adulthood.
Even with the longer life span and rising demand for social benefits for the aged population, the bulk of the ballooning demographic lives in poor conditions. Living until 100 may be a curse rather than a blessing, individually and as a society. We can only address the aging problems and cannot reverse the trend. We have no choice but to try to find the best possible prescriptions for the ill effects.
The Ministry of Strategy and Finance has come up with a good suggestion. It proposes to change the legal elderly age to 70 or 75 from the current 65. It may come across as a cheap trick by the government in order to reduce social costs of supporting the elderly population. But with cynicism aside, it is actually a realistic way to address to the aging problem.
Most people also agree that the responsibilities of the elderly have changed. The country’s life expectancy averaged 71.3 years as of the end of last year, which means most people believe they can live actively past 70. We should not necessarily brush aside someone as old and invalid just as soon as one turns 65. If someone is willing and capable of working, age should not discriminate against them. But if the government wants to raise the median age, the government should come up with specific support measures.