More unemployed men turn to gambling
“Girls at my school call me a ‘fossil’ because I’m older than many of the fellow students,” said a 26-year-old university student surnamed Lee, who has returned to school after his military service. “But many girls I’m friends with, who have already secured jobs, call me a baby because I’m still a student. I don’t seem to fit in anywhere.”
The situation is not much different for university graduates who have long been job searching.
“I have been preparing for the certified public accountant test for three years now and living off my parents’ money,” said a 27-year-old surnamed Yoon. “If I fail the test again this time, then I’m definitely a total loser.”
A study by the National Health Insurance Service states that the number of men in their 20s diagnosed with depression rose 40 percent from 15,773 in 2010 to 22,186 in 2015.
The number of women in their 20s diagnosed with depression, on the other hand, dropped 1.9 percent, from 30,127 to 29,545 in the same time period.
“In Korean society, where men are expected to go above and beyond expectations, many are quite hard on themselves,” said Song In-han, a social welfare professor at Yonsei University. “This is something men have to face in a male-dominated society.”
“Men who are not prepared to take on the image as breadwinner struggle,” said Yoon In-jin, sociology professor at Korea University. “They face quite a lot of social pressure in that respect.”
Though not all men who have depression or are unemployed have gambling problems, the number of those in their 20s who do is the rise, one study says, and many of them are unemployed.
“I can’t seem to land any jobs at all,” said a 26-year-old surnamed Kim as he sat in front of a slot machine in Kangwon Land Casino in Gangwon on Aug. 11.
He was holding a bunch of 50,000 won ($43.8) bills in his hand.
“People go on vacations, so why can’t I, even if I’m not employed?” he said. “If I hit the jackpot, then I don’t have to fill out any more job applications.”
“There are quite a number of men in their 20s here at the casino,” said a 27-year-old dealer surnamed Park. “I’ve been working here for five years now, and I see men around my age here more now than ever. Some, I dare say, show up at the casino every morning like it’s their job.”
According to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, among the 1,099 people who sought medical attention for gambling addiction last year, 71.3 percent were in their 20s and 30s, up from 51.6 percent five years ago.
The number of people in their 20s who sought medical attention for gambling problems jumped 3.4 times from 108 in 2012 to 366 last year, and their number last year was greater than the total number of those over 40 last year, which was 343.
“The gambling addiction rate is dropping across all age groups except for those in their 20s and 30s,” said an employee of the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service. “There are many reasons behind this trend, but usually, gambling addiction is more or less related to anxiety and depression issues.”
“Many unemployed young adults are falling prey to gambling addiction because it seems like an escape route for them,” said Kim Young-ho, professor of addiction counseling at Eulji University in Seongnam, Gyeonggi.
“This society has been called Hell Joseon for its socioeconomic difficulties and young people talk of dirt spoons and gold spoons, characterizing how they cannot climb the social ladder.”
Kim added, “They call themselves the ‘N-po generation’ [a Korean portmanteau meaning “to give up ‘n’ number of things in life,” like marriage, courtship and employment],” Kim said.
“The self-esteem of young job seekers has dropped to rock-bottom levels and many are choosing to gamble because they believe it will help them earn money quickly.”
The Korean Psychology Association said in its 2014 study that 34 percent of members registered on illegal sports betting websites are in their 20s.
“I first got into online illegal sports betting after I won 250,000 won [$219] in my first bet,” said a 27-year-old surnamed Kim.
He said he became addicted to illegal sports betting in 2011, when he completed his mandatory military service, until last year, when he finally landed a job. “I couldn’t stop after that, and I even borrowed 50 million won to keep gambling.”
He added, “Things sort of fell apart from then. I broke my smartphone so many times because I would hurl it in anger when I didn’t win any money in these bets, and I eventually thought about killing myself. My parents paid back all my debts last year. If I hadn’t landed a job last year, I might still be gambling day and night trying to pay back all my debts.”
Some experts point out, however, that gambling addiction is highly correlated with youth simply because younger individuals are more prone to thrill-seeking and are more vulnerable to addiction.
“The illegal online sports betting has the three factors that men in their 20s find attractive,” said Lim Jung-min, director of the addiction prevention department of the Korea Center on Gambling Problems. “These are sports, the websites’ interface, which is similar to that of online games, and the excitement of gambling and competing through bets.”
Many of these illegal sports betting websites are managed abroad and from more than one headquarter, making it difficult for authorities to crack down on them.“Gambling should never be, and is not, the hope of young adults in Korea,” said Professor Kim.
Some statistics have additionally pointed out that young women are also struggling to secure jobs.
According to Statistics Korea’s data released on Aug. 11, the employment rate of women in their 20s hit 60.7 percent last month, while that of men in their 20s hit 57.6 percent. Yet for women in their 30s, it was only 59.9 percent, while for men in their 30s it was 90.6 percent.
And counting all employed women and men across age groups, the Korea Labor Institute said last year that 61.5 percent of men are employed full-time while 38.5 percent of women are employed full-time.
“The education system here needs to change, into one that allows people to take time to think about who they are and what they want to be,” Song said. “The mental and psychological struggles of some young job seekers will only be overcome when they can live contentedly without comparing themselves to others.”
BY HA JUN-HO, KIM JUN-YOUNG [email@example.com]