New retirement age causing a dilemma

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New retirement age causing a dilemma


The appeal of mythologies is that these stories reflect the lives of humans. Especially the Greek and Roman mythologies which feature stories of gods that can also behave like ordinary people. They feel anger, joy, sadness and pleasure. They fall in love and become jealous, just like humans.

They also make mistakes. One of the mistakes made by gods applies to today’s humanity. It is the mistake of Eos, the goddess of the dawn. She fell in love with Tithonus, a handsome young man. While Eos is immortal, Tithonus was human and mortal. So Eos asks Zeus to make Tithonus immortal, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. So Tithonus lived forever, but grew older constantly. He could not die when he was completely mentally and physically exhausted. When Eos realized her mistake, it was too late. Eternal life without youth became a crueler punishment than death itself.

If we compare the myth to modern day, eternal life would be aging, and youth is employment. Getting old without having a job is even harsher than death. Is there any solution? One way is to extend the retirement age. Japan, the country with the oldest population, and Korea, whose population is aging most rapidly, made that choice. The employees welcome the extension, while the companies are struggling.

The situations may seem similar on the surface, but if you look inside, Korea’s case is quite different from that of Japan. Japan seems to be quite ready. The retirement age was extended to 60 in 1994 and included a four-year grace period. The policy was implemented when the companies were prepared. Ninety-three percent of Japanese companies set the retirement age at 60 or older. The government gave three options: extension of the retirement age, elimination of the set retirement age or re-employment after retirement.

Since retirement at age 60 has become stable, the Japanese government extended the retirement age to 65 this year. The law was drafted in 2006 and companies were given seven years to prepare. But the companies are protesting that the extension would add 400 billion yen ($3.89 billion) in payroll costs a year and reduce youth employment. Japan has already suffered side effects. Five years ago, McDonald’s Japan, which had eliminated the mandatory retirement policy, reinstated a retirement age of 60 this year and rehires employees upon retirement. The company made the decision as productivity and sales dropped, and the veteran employees were not passing down their know-how efficiently.

How is Korea doing? Less than 30 percent of companies with more than 300 employees set the retirement age at over 60. And they are given few options. The government provides the subsidies and announced an enforcement ordinance to allow a salary peak. We don’t have much time. Companies need to figure it out in two years, and it is not enough time to contemplate and discuss the issue. But the politicians passed the law hurriedly, without giving it serious thought. After all, we cannot blame the politicians entirely. Eternal life without eternal youth is not much different from the extension of retirement without proper planning. Even gods make mistakes, and we are only human.

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

by Yi Jung-jae
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