Satisfaction rose during pandemic, but only for the wealthy
Koreans were on average more satisfied with life in 2020 than in 2019, but the figures show that money is increasingly important in ensuring happiness.
According to a Statistics Korea study, 61.6 percent of Koreans say they were happy with life in 2020, a 0.9 percentage point increase from 2019. But a closer look at the figures show that income directly impacted happiness last year.
While 66.3 percent of people making minimum 6 million won ($5,400) a month were satisfied with their lives, only 38.3 percent of people making less than 1 million won felt the same way.
The difference between the top and bottom tiers was 27.5 percentage points, 1.9 percentage points higher than in 2019. This is the biggest gap since related data has been compiled in 2013.
This divide was even clearer when it came to positive emotional experiences.
Among those that made more than 6 million won, 77.9 percent said they had positive emotional experiences in 2020, up 4.6 percentage points from the previous year. Only 49.6 percent of those earning less than 1 million a month said they had the same experience. That's a 1.2 percentage point drop from 50.8 percent a year earlier.
The average was 70.5 percent, up 1.1 percentage points from last year's 69.4 percent.
Experts say economic situation is currently the biggest contributing factor to the widening gap between those that are economically stable and those that aren't, even though economic wealth does not necessarily directly translate to personal happiness.
The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic had a major influence on the way people felt about their quality of life.
"Those in the middle and upper class were able to maintain their income amid the pandemic but those of the lower income class that were directly hit by Covid-19 weren't able to consume as they did as they either lost their jobs or saw their paycheck being cut," said Kang Sung-jin, a professor at Korea University’s Department of Economics. “As they became [economically] limited, they no longer had the leisure to spend on cultural experiences or self improvement, hobbies, sport and on their health, making their satisfaction with life decline."
The gap has also grown when it comes to health conditions.
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, 76.7 percent of respondents to a survey of 3,833 people conducted between Sept. 25 and Oct. 30 last year said they haven't seen any change to their health condition since the Covid-19 outbreak. While 9.1 percent said their health improved since the pandemic, 14.2 percent said their health got worse.
Those that made more than 7 million won a month in monthly income topped the list among all income groups that answered that their health has improved since the outbreak, at 27.7 percent.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, those that made less than 2 million won a month topped the list among those that said their health worsened, at 20.5 percent.
The biggest reason for the difference between the two groups was vivid in their spending on health related expenses.
The top 20 percent by income in the fourth quarter of last year spent an average 414,396 won, which is a 19.7 percent increase on year. On the contrary, the bottom 20 percent saw their spending inch up 3.07 percent to 208,932 won.
Excluding the cost of buying masks, a staple during the pandemic, spending on health and medical services by the bottom 20 percent is likely unchanged.
“The price of daily necessities is rising amid the pandemic,” said Kang. “Low income households will continue to cut their spending until the Covid-19 outbreak settles.”
BY SOHN HAE-YONG [email@example.com]