Overworking old men

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Overworking old men

The author is the deputy editor of the economic policy news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

“In order for the elderly not to fall down in class, they have to work as hard as they did when they were young. A society where you must work until death awaits.”

The lines are from “Overworking Old Men” by Takanori Fujita. The elderly welfare expert cast a shock across Japan with his book “The Low-Class Elderly Are Coming” in 2015. The book directly addresses the reality of the elderly with no money or people to depend on. The book became the No. 1 best-seller on Amazon Japan. “Overworking Old Man” is a sequel published in 2016.

In the book, Fujita pointed out that the elderly employment rate in Japan is particularly higher than that of other developed countries, not because the old people are “highly motivated to work,” but because they have “no choice but to work.” He cited OECD statistics from 2015. The employment rate of senior citizens aged 65 or older is in the single digits in France, Germany and Britain. But the rate is 20.1 percent in Japan due to their “overworking.”

However, it is the Korean elderly who are really overworking. In 2015, the employment rate of those aged 65 or older in Korea was 30.6 percent, far higher than that of Japan. Since then, the situation in Korea has only worsened. In 2015, Korea’s elderly employment rate was second to Iceland, but it surpassed Iceland in 2020 and became first. It is twice the OECD average of around 15 percent.

The latest situation is more serious. According to the “employment trend” statistics released by Statistics Office last week, the employment rate for those aged 65 or older was 38 percent in September. It is breaking the record every time. Korea has become the country with the highest elderly poverty rate and highest elderly employment rate in the OECD.

That is not because seniors in Korea are particularly lazy or lived without a plan. Korea was able to grow rapidly from the 1970s to 1990s thanks to the diligence of the older generations. They received low wages, yet provided quality labor and boasted the longest working hours in the world.

Let’s go back to “Overworking Old Men.” The author said that the biggest problem is the common social notion of family support and the welfare system based on it. While a major reform is needed, the Korean government hasn’t even taken the first step toward pension and welfare reform.

There is only one path for the country. Overworking young people become the overworking middle-aged. When they grow old, they become the overworking elderly.
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