Taking care of the aged is top social issue

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Taking care of the aged is top social issue

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With Korean society aging rapidly, the quality of life of older people is becoming a major issue, especially with fewer children supporting their parents. Another big change in society is the sharp increase in the number of men taking paternity leave.

These were some of the major trends Statistics Korea noted in a study released Thursday.

According to the statistics agency, as of 2016 the average annual income of retired households was 18.3 million won ($16,260), or 1.52 million won a month. That’s only 37 percent of the 49.6 million won annual income made by economically-active households.

Of the monthly average income, 67 percent - or 1.03 million won - is transfer income, which means they are dependent upon support from the government or family members.

Transfer income includes national pension payments, retirement severance pay and funds from children.

Of the monthly income, 50 percent - or 1.02 million won - is spent on basic living expenses, including food, housing and medical. This greatly contrasts the 28 percent spent by younger people on basic living expenses.

More older people are living independently from their children.

The study has found that among people above 65 years in age, 23.7 percent lived with their children. This is a 3.9 percentage point drop from 2008. Elders living alone were 23.6 percent of the total, a 3.9 percentage point increase from 2008.

Children are less inclined to contribute to the care and maintenance of their parents. It was found that 26.7 percent said they would support their parents, which is a 14 percentage point drop from 2008. Nearly half - or 48.3 percent - said the government and society should be responsible.

“The housing situation of older people has changed with more people living alone,” said Chung Kyung-hee, senior researcher at Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, who wrote the report. “There is an increased need for a public support system for the aged.”

As senior citizens become more independent, fewer are retiring.

Among households with the head of the household in their 50s, 9.5 percent have retired, which is a drop from 13 percent in 2013. For those in their 60s, the ratio of those retired has dropped from 39.8 percent to 34.8 percent. Only in the 70-plus category has the percentage of retired increased.

The study also has found that, for the first time since paternity leave was introduced in 1995, the number of men taking a break from their jobs for childcare has exceeded 10,000.

Last year, men taking paternity leave totaled 12,043. That’s a 58.1 percent surge compared to the previous year. As of last year, men accounted for 13 percent out of the total 90,123 people taking a break from work to raise children. A decade ago, men only accounted for 1.2 percent.

Seoul National University sociology Prof. Kwon Hyun-ji said the rise in paternity leave is influenced by the growing interest in splitting the burden of raising a family between men and women and improvements in compensation covering financial losses faced from taking a break to raise a child. In the case of public servants, the government provides 40 percent of a person’s monthly paycheck, and 80 percent in the first three months.

However, the report noted that, despite the growing number of parents taking leave to raise their children, it is mostly conglomerate employees taking advantage of the benefit. Among companies with more than 300 employees, 93 percent allow their employees to take leave to raise children.

A gap exists between high income earners taking such leave and those on the other end of the spectrum. Among those earning more than 3 million won a month, 20 percent took paternity leave. Among those making between 2.1 million won and 3 million won a month, 34 percent took the benefit. Only 6.2 percent of those making less than 1.35 million won took leave.


BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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