Fewer Koreans practicing religion

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Fewer Koreans practicing religion

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Koreans are slowly moving away from religion, the government said Monday. At the same time, the number of people paying monthly rent has surpassed the number with lump-sum deposit contracts.

These were the major social changes in a decade, according to data released by Statistics Korea.

Individualism has caused Koreans to move away from religion, according to the government statistics office.

Among Koreans surveyed last year, 56.1 percent said they aren’t religious. This is a 9 percentage-point increase compared to a 2005 survey. The decline in religious beliefs was most evident among those in their 40s as only 43.2 percent said they practice a religion, down from 56.5 percent in 2005. The second age group to move away from faith was those in their 20s: Only 35.1 percent said they practiced a religion compared to 47.9 percent of those who did in 2005. The older the person was the more likely it was that they practiced a faith. Nearly 58 percent of those in their 70s or older said they were religious.

“It appears that fewer people are interested in believing in religions as they become busier and the society become more individualistic, which made them less interested in getting involved in some types of communities or social activities,” said Lee Jae-won, a director at the Statistics Korea.

Women were more inclined to practice than men, as 48.4 percent were religious while only 39.4 percent of men were. While religious women dropped from 56.4 percent in a 2005 survey, for men it dropped from 49.3 percent during the same period.

For the first time, Protestants outnumbered Buddhists.

In 2005, Protestant Christians accounted for 18.2 percent of the total population. That figure rose to 19.7 percent. Buddhists accounted for 15.5 percent, a drop from 22.8 percent more than 10 years ago. Catholicism was the third-largest religion, comprising 7.9 percent.

While Jeolla residents were strong Protestants, many in the Gyeongsang regions still practiced Buddhism.

The study also showed that Koreans are less involved in social activities.

Just five years ago, 33.7 percent of Koreans aged 20 or older said they were socially active. That figure dropped 2.6 percentage points to 31.1 percent last year. More people now participate in cultural organizations compared to religious groups. Those participating in religious activities have dropped 3.1 percentage points during the last 10 years whereas cultural activities has risen 3.3 percentage points.

Participation by those in their 30s have declined 4.9 percentage points during the last 10 years to 27.9 percent.

The low interest rate has also altered the preference on housing rents. The way people live has also changed with 22.9 percent of Koreans paying monthly rent, up 2.8 percentage points in five years. This exceeds the 15.5 percent of those living on jeonse, or lump-sum deposit rent contracts, for the first time since the government began compiling data in 1975.

The statistics agency contributed the increase in monthly rent payments on the changing family structure where there has been a surge in people living alone. The huge financial burden of buying a home was a contributing factor.

“The number of single households continues to grow in the nation and more number of homeowners prefer giving monthly rents over jeonse due to the low interest rate in Korea,” said Lee. “This is making those who are financially stable purchase their own houses instead of renting it through jeonse or monthly rents, while those who can’t afford the high prices of jeonse and housing prices are paying monthly rent.”

Meanwhile, more Koreans are more educated than before. Five years ago, the highest level of education that most Koreans achieved was high school. Today that has changed to college.

In 2010, 32.4 percent of Koreans older than 30 had graduated from college, but the figure rose 5.6 percentage points to 38 percent last year. It was only 27.9 percent in 2005.

Those with high school diplomas as the highest level of education dropped from 37.3 percent in 2010 to 36.4 percent last year.


BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]

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