Metals and dirt used to reflect social position

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Metals and dirt used to reflect social position

Perhaps inspired by the English phrase “born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth,” members of Korea’s younger generation have devised their own way of defining social hierarchy - with gold, silver and soil.

Identifying their status by personal wealth and social standing of their families, they see gold as the top level, silver as mediocre and soil as the
lowest.

Underlying the classifications is the nihilistic view that people cannot separate themselves from their
origins.

A local economist’s study shows the rapidly spreading terms are actually reflecting reality.

Kim Nak-nyeon, an economics professor at Dongguk University, said in his research paper unveiled on Tuesday that the contribution of inherited properties to a Korean individual grew from 27 percent in the 1980s and 29 percent in the 1990s to as high as 42 percent in the 2000s.

The size of the inherited fortune each year related to the average national income also grew. Inheritances that averaged 5 percent in the 1980s, climbed to 5.5 percent in the 1990s and to 6.5 percent in the 2000s. The average for 2010 to 2013 was higher, at 8.2 percent. The lower portion from the 1980s to 1990s is attributed to the fact that Korea’s industrialization led to galloping economic growth (8.8 percent and 7.1 percent on average for the two respective decades) and an aging society did not arrive during the period, Kim explains.

When a society ages quickly, the death rate goes up, and the scale of investment, savings and economic growth goes down. Korea’s death rate in the 2000s registered 0.68 percent, lower than France’s 1.16 percent.

But Korea is expected to reach 1.73 percent by 2050, surpassing France’s 1.45 percent.

“Low growth and extended life expectancy has made inherited wealth more important than the income people accumulate through their profession, and the trend is set to accelerate in Korea,” he said.

His analysis also showed that adults within the top 10 percent in terms of their fortunes, hold 66.4 percent of the entire assets in Korea as of 2013, up from the average 63.2 percent between 2000 and 2007, a period before Korea underwent global financial turmoil.

“If inheritance becomes a much more crucial means of forming one’s fortune than savings, and the wealth disparity from it gets intensified, it will be hard to consider society as based on a merit system,” he said.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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