[Editorial] Time to raise the quality of life

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[Editorial] Time to raise the quality of life

The latest report on the quality of our people’s lives, released by Statistics Korea on Monday, shows a shabby portrait of a society we live in today. According to the report, Koreans scored only 5.9 points out of the 10, 10 being the highest. Korea is ranked 36th among the 38 OECD member countries. Behind Korea are only two countries: Colombia (5.8 points) stricken with a long civil war and Turkey (4.7 points) hit by the recent earthquake.

As the Covid-19 pandemic nears an end, Koreans showed better scores in the categories of environment, employment and health than before, but the situation worsened in the leisure, housing, family and community categories. In an alarming turn, the suicide rate rose to 26 per 100,000 in 2021 from 25.7 in the previous year. The rate shot up to 61.3 for people in their 80s followed by 41.8 for those in their 70s. The poverty rate for the elderly, at 37.6 percent, which is nearly triple the OECD average at 13.5 percent, helps shake the foundation of our social safety net for that vulnerable age group.

The young generation is no exception. The primary cause of death for those in their 20s and 30s was suicide in 2021, at 56.8 percent and 40.6 percent, respectively. The number of twentysomethings who killed themselves soared to 23.5 per 100,000 in 2021, a 42.4 percent increase from 2018. The rapid surge epitomizes their predicaments with no end in sight. Data from the Health Insurance and Review and Assessment Service shows a rapid increase of twentysomethings suffering from depression, which more than doubled to 177,166 in just four years, not to mention those who suffer anxiety disorders.

The Easterlin paradox says that if one’s wealth reaches a certain level, money alone cannot make one more happy. Korea’s GDP grew by 520 times from $61 in 1953 to $34,870 in 2021, but Korean happiness fell to 59th in 2022 from 56 in 2021, according to the 2021 World Happiness Report from the UN. But Finland has been ranked first in the happiness index for five consecutive years thanks to its solid social safety net backed by high per capita income and strong trust in community.

But Korean society is fraught with heated competitions from kindergarten days followed by extra studies through cram schools. In daily life too, Koreans are addicted to a novel brand of “Kaffein,” a critical mix of Kakao, Facebook and Instagram only to compare themselves with others.

The state must reflect on its steadfast adherence to the quantitative growth in the past. We must raise the quality of our lives from now by restoring the values of community we lost, expand leisure, and strike a balance between work and life before it’s too late.
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