‘Sampo Generation’ suffers employment stress, study finds

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‘Sampo Generation’ suffers employment stress, study finds


Young Koreans today, it seems, are a disappointment to their elders; derisively christened the Sampo Generation by those who feel they’ve turned their backs on their own culture, their heterodox lifestyles are becoming a source of stress not only for their seniors, but for themselves.

Sampo is a Korean portmanteau meaning “to give up three things,” referring to the three essentials of traditional Korean adulthood: courtship, marriage and childbirth.

Opo, or “to give up five things,” adds homeownership and a social life to the list.

But the factors driving this phenomenon have less to do with cynicism than employment opportunities, and so, with an increasing number of Koreans in their 20s and 30s complaining of depression and anxiety, JoongAng Ilbo conducted a study of stress levels among Korean youths.

The participants were divided into six groups according to occupation: university freshmen, university seniors, jobseekers, those recently hired, those in the middle of their career and people studying for civil service examinations.

The study surveyed thirty people, five in each group, and was done with the help of Professor Chae Jeong-ho’s research team in the psychiatry department of Seoul St. Mary Hospital.

Participants were asked to mark scores in a survey ranging from zero to 40, with higher numbers indicating greater levels of stress.

The respondents who ranked highest in terms of stress, with 18.8 points, were those who were preparing for national exams. They were followed by university seniors, with 18.6 points, jobseekers, with 17.6 points, university freshmen, with 16.4 points, people in their middle of career, with 15 points, and the recently-hired, with 13.6 points.

The study also tested the heartrate variability of one person in each group in order to study the severity of their stress.

The person to rank highest on the stress level index was Lee Mi-ran, 25, who is preparing for a grade 9 civil service exam. Lee graduated from a regional university where she majored in information technology, She began preparing for the exam since last February.

Lee says she typically begins her day by leaving her home at 9:00 a.m. to go to a nearby library, where she studies until 8:00 p.m. She subsequently has little time for friends, hobbies or physical activities.

“Although I chose to prepare for the civil service exam, since I can’t do what I want to, I get lots of stress,” says Lee.

Her stress, as it accumulated, started influencing her study as well.

“After studying for the exam for about a year, I experienced a slump,” she notes. “When I read a book that I’ve studied before, I merely skimmed over it and then I became angry at my lazy self.”

Lee also says she’s been suffering from insomnia for months.

“I’m aware of the fact that I’m stressed out. I can’t sleep at nights. And even if I get some sleep, I still feel tired,” admits Lee. “I’m starting to sense the danger of stress.”


The person to rank second in terms of stress was Kim Da-hye, 25, a senior in Korea University’s English literature department.

University students who will soon face graduation are especially vulnerable to stress.

Kim lived the campus life everyone dreams of until her junior year of school. She was active in college clubs and took trips to Southeast Asia and Europe.

Kim’s life, however, changed drastically after she became a senior. Her daily schedule is now filled with activities designed to make her an appealing job applicant.

With Kim’s father soon reaching retirement age, she is desperate more than ever to find a job.

“As a university student, I had a sense of security,” says Kim. “But after becoming a senior, I live with so much insecurity. I want to get employed by the end of the year and become economically independent from my parents but I’m not sure if it will be possible.”

Hwang Seul-gi, 25, ranked third in the study; still looking for a job, she has decided to postpone her graduation.

“I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing here,” says Hwang.

Hwang even took a year off from school in order to earn her actuarial license. Fortunately, she passed the first stage of the test and is preparing for the second stage.

Hwang, who majored in financial economics, wants to get a job at an insurance company. Once a week, she also participates in a study group to discuss current social issues.

“Acquiring the license won’t guarantee a job,” she says. “I’ve seen my friends, who seemed so confident after a job interview, fail to get a job. As time passes, my worries only grow.”

The respondent who ranked fifth, Choi Min-gun, 36, has been working at a distribution enterprise for eight years.

When he was in his 20s, Choi believed he would be free from stress once he got a job. He is now in his fifth year at the company as an assistant manager.

But, he says, his workplace is more like a jungle compared to university life. Despite the fact that’s become adjusted to corporate culture, his stress levels have been on the rise.

“People in my position are the waist of the company. We play the role of enhancing work performance,” says Choi. “We’re already past the stage where seniors have to help us out, so now I have to get things done on my own.”

Choi says whenever he thinks of his responsibility as breadwinner of his family, he takes out a cigarette. Seven months ago, he tried to quit smoking when his daughter was born, but failed.

“These days I smoke once every two to three days because I can’t tolerate the stress.”

The person to rank last in the survey, a 27-year-old named Kang Seung-woo, recently became employed at a financial company.

Kang started working in January and says just thinking about going to work makes his stress go away. Still, he is busy adapting to the new environment.

“I often heard that first impressions last a lifetime,” says Kang. “When I dine with people from my work, I try to avoid making small mistakes. I make sure my glass is below my supervisor’s glass when we’re making a toast and that the spoons and chopsticks of my supervisors are laid before anyone else’s.”

Professor Chae, who conducted the study, says the results show that the major factor creating stress for the people in their 20s and 30s is employment.

But he adds that thinking of positive things, even on purpose, can greatly help relieve stress.

“People should repeatedly practice appreciating and enjoying their daily routines,” advises Chae.

“Even the appreciation of small things is important, such as eating a meal, taking a walk or drinking a cup of tea.”

BY CHO HAN-DAE [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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