More seniors stay active after retirement

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More seniors stay active after retirement

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Workers of the social enterprise Silver Nest pose for a picture. The youngest worker in the company is 60 years old, while the oldest is 91. Each worker receives a monthly salary of 1 million won (926 dollar). The business produces publicity materials using digital technology and devices. By Choi Seung-sik

On a recent afternoon, Yun Ah-byeong donned a headset and sat down in front of her computer, concentrating intently on the screen. The 75-year-old was editing a video clip of footage that she had filmed at the Goryeo-in Village in Ansan, a residential area made up of Koreans who spent their formative years in the Soviet Union.

“I should input some subtitles and record my voice narration,” she said. “I’ve just begun my work.”

Despite her age, Yoon is one of the growing numbers of Korean seniors who choose to actively work even after retirement. She is a founding member of Silver Nest, a public relations company that produces publicity materials for local companies, broadcasting stations and the government.

The head of the business, Ra Yeong-su, 74, established the organization with four other members, and in March it was authorized by the government as a social enterprise.

Silver Nest has 15 employees, including Yoon, who are all seniors, and each worker receives a monthly salary of about 1 million won ($926), which comes out of the company’s profits.

“Thanks to the development of digital technology,” Ra said, “seniors have no problem learning cutting-edge skills.”

These days, the reality for Korean seniors is changing. Like the workers at Silver Nest, the elderly are self-sufficient, relying less on their children for assistance. Many retirees are also pursuing new activities and learning new skills.

Analysts classify the nation’s retired seniors into two groups: the New Silver Generation, who are between 60 and 74 years old, and the Old Silver Generation, who are 75 and beyond. Compared to the older generation, New Silvers are more likely to continue working, experts point out, managing their health and beauty through various means such as obtaining dentures, getting knee surgery and even removing freckles via laser surgery.

“Seniors should find happiness through moving their bodies,” said Cha Heung-bong, a former welfare minister. “New Silvers should move through working and starting their own businesses, and the Old Silver should move through exercise.

“Government support is also necessary to change social perceptions about senior citizens,” Cha added. “The government should not regard them as helpless or dependent but as independent individuals who can make money and live by themselves.”

According to government statistics, 675,511 seniors older than 59 ran their own businesses in 2012, more than double the 287,411 in 2006.

Many older entrepreneurs are also utilizing information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance their personal projects.

In Seocheon County, South Chungcheong, Clumsy Farmers, a local group made up of seniors who started farming after retirement, set up its own online sales system using social networking services, including Facebook. They sell their crops through these networks as well as via other online outlets.

“Monitoring online information and producing content are suitable jobs for seniors,” said Jeong Tae-myeong, an ICT professor at the Sungkyunkwan University. “It does not require physical activity, and the risk of failure or loss is low.”

In many developed countries, like Sweden and Japan, for instance, tech start-ups by seniors who rely on ICT are booming.

South Korea ranks third in the world when it comes to the percentage of people between 16 and 24 years old who use the Internet - a demographic that accounts for 99 percent of total users. But among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korea ranks 22nd, with just 25.1 percent of seniors between 65 and 74 years old using the Internet.

“I would propose the government make it mandatory to educate retired seniors about planning for life post-retirement,” said Cha, the former welfare minister. “If seniors are happy, society would be happier because the cost of medical and welfare services for them would be reduced.”

But besides staying mentally and physically able, sexual activity and beauty also contribute to the happiness of seniors during retirement.

In fact, many doctors say that for a healthy silver life, regular sex is part of the balance.

One 76-year-old, identified only by his surname Park, admitted that he visited a urologist recently to get a shot to treat his impotence.

“I will continue to visit the clinic for treatment, because I want to enjoy my life,” Park said.

Lim Il-seong, a urologist in western Seoul, acknowledged that “statistically, I have more than one patient older than 74 [for the treatment of the impotence].”

“Recently, I even treated a 92-year-old patient,” he said.

But as well as sex, maintaining appearances also adds to many seniors’ sense of vitality, making them feel younger, even refreshed.

Lee Byeong-jae, 79, recently met with a JoongAng Ilbo reporter at a plastic surgery hospital in the Gangnam area in Seoul. He had softened his light silver hair with pomade and wore fashionable horn-rimmed glasses, a camel coat and a wine-colored scarf.

He said he visited the hospital to arrange an appointment to have fat injections in the middle of his forehead, a procedure he thinks will give him a kinder, more youthful look. The 79-year-old added that he visits an aesthetic skin care clinic three times a month just for himself.

“You don’t have to give up on yourself just because you’re old,” Lee stated. “My physical strength is almost the same as those in their 50s. I want to spend the rest of my life as a nice gentleman.”

Lee believes his life has completely changed since before he retired in his early 60s. He now gets up at 6 a.m. each day and goes straight to his home gym, which is equipped with various exercise machines. He said he does not want to lose his health.

“I spent most of my life on working and raising children,” Lee said. “Now is the time to live life just for myself. I want to say other seniors ‘take courage’ in living your own life.”

But an increasing interest in beauty and maintenance is not just limited to the New Silver Generation, doctors say. It’s important for Old Silvers as well.

Ahn Geon-yeong, a skin care doctor in Gangnam, said that about 10 percent of the clinic’s patients are seniors, many of them men.

“Now,” he said, “longevity is no longer the most important issue. Living a healthy and younger life is the key.”

BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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