The transition from a snail to a slug

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The transition from a snail to a slug


Becoming a homeowner has been a universal goal of most Koreans for a long time. It all began with the development boom in the 1960s. In the ’70s, the population of the urban poor grew drastically, especially in Seoul. Those who experienced the suffering of not having a home were determined to buy a home for the family. An editorial in a newspaper in 1977 wrote, “Tears well up on the eyes of the mother as she soothes her crying baby in order not to disturb the landlord from a rented room. The biggest wish of the working class in the city is to build their own house on their own land.”

In the ’80s, becoming a homeowner became a national goal. In 1980, 44.5 percent of Seoul residents lived in their own homes. The media frequently covered the diminishing prospect of realizing the dream of becoming a homeowner. The situation worsened after the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The shortage of rental homes and soaring housing prices continued until the 1990s, leading many heads of working-class families to kill themselves out of desperation. The police reporters used to focus on two topics - soaring housing prices and rising suicides out of despair.

The cover page of the March 22, 1990 issue of the JoongAng Ilbo featured a story on the tragic reality. The title was “Mom, Are We Moving Again?” A head of a household in his 50s killed himself as the lease deposit for his 3-pyeong (107-square-foot) room increased from 3 million won to 4.5 million won ($2,694 to $4,025). Seventeen people committed suicide over two months for a similar reason. We all feel their desperation and despair. Some even joked that the animal that Koreans are most envious of is the snail, which is born with its own home.

Becoming a homeowner remained at the top of the wish list until 2007. Investment and financial advice books proposed secrets over how to buy a home. They advised to “Start in your 20s, it’s too late in your 30s” and offered the “Top Ten Secret Know-How of Buying a Home.” However, the housing price began to drop after the global financial crisis in 2008, and people are giving second thoughts to becoming a homeowner.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on last year’s housing situation conducted in May 2013, 27 percent of Koreans feel that they don’t have to buy a home. The number increased by 11 percent compared to two years ago. The average age of buying a first home also went up to 40.9. First, people are getting married at an older age on average, and second, the sluggish economy has put an end to the ever-soaring housing prices. The dream of becoming a homeowner was cherished for over 50 years, but it went down with the aging of society and the economic slump.

Another change in trend is that people are less envious of the snail. The newest joke is, “Young Koreans living today are more like slugs, which have to live without a home for life.”

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yi Jung-jae
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