The 21st century, only 12 years old, is being called the century of the "new old." Increasingly, the global elderly population is outnumbering all other age categories. In France, it took 120 years to arrive at this point; in Korea only 26. The economic implications of this new social reality are troubling, says a priest in his Peace Weekly column on "Happiness."
Growing old gracefully in Korea is going
to be more difficult than it has been in the past, he says. Many Korean
parents are not setting aside enough money to provide for their
retirement and old age, spending most of their earnings on an expensive
for their children, and giving them whatever is left over. The accepted
belief is that if children are raised well, the parents will have an
easy time of it after retirement.
The harsh reality is that
graduating from college requires a great deal of money and those that
graduate are not guaranteed a job. Over 1 million young people in their
20s are unemployed and skilled labor jobs go begging, In Germany, the
columnist notes, skilled labor jobs are prepared for by students while
they are in middle school, the children deciding, according to aptitude
and preference, to prepare either for college or for a trade.
troublesome reality: When we get old the body begins to break down, and
though many parents will turn to their children for help, the children
often show little concern for their sick parents. Children tend to be
close to their parents until age 10, the priest says, and then gradually
begin distancing themselves from them.
Another problem is the
lack of friends. Korea leads in the number of suicides among the
developed countries. In Japan, the reason for suicides is loneliness
but in Korea it is mostly money concerns. Being old and without money
decreases confidence, which makes it more difficult to socialize with
However, the priest feels the biggest problem is
adjusting to living with the personal idiosyncrasies of your partner,
especially after many years of marriage--unless you have built up a
reservoir of love. In their 20s, if couples don't feel well matched, the
priest says that in their 30s they will work at being more compatible.
And in their 40s, they will work on the weak points so that in their 50s
they will truly become lovers.
Working toward this type of
compatibility takes a great deal of effort. In France, around the
Champs-Elysee, you find the older people drinking wine and going to
restaurants. In Korea, the older people will be found at Pagoda Park,
while the young, using their parents' money, are dining out at good
It is said that when the root is strong, the tree
will be strong and the fruit will be plentiful; the elderly are the
roots of our society. However, in these troublesome times, the happiness
of the aged has become an important topic of conversation. According to
a ranking of countries based on the level of happiness within the
country, out of the 179 countries surveyed, Korea ranked 102,
"unhappy" situation should be a concern to all of us, beginning with a
rethinking of the financial support usually given by parents to their
children. Without sufficient thought being given to the future needs of
the parents when they are old, not only will the happiness index of the
country not improve, but the happiness index of our elderly will suffer