• Updated : 2020.6.29 월 13:42
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Is Korea Ready for an “Aging Society?”고령사회와 노인복지
심미승 행정학과 교수  |  tribune1968@cnumedia.com
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승인 2015.05.14  10:27:52
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     Korea’s population is aging at the fastest pace among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Koreans aged 65 or older accounted for 12.2% of the total population of about 50 million. This is the 30th highest ratio among the 34 OECD members.
     Korea became an “aging society” in 2000, in which the number of people aged 65 or older reached 7.0% of its total population. Korea will be an “aged society” within the next few years, when 14% of its population will be comprised of the elderly.

▲ A senior citizen taking a break on the road /Photo by The Japan Times

     The true fact is that our society cannot avoid becoming an aged society. But Korea’s problem is the speed with which it is approaching. It will take Korea 18 years to move from an “aging” to an “aged” society, much faster than other developed countries have. In the case of France, it will take 115 years to become an aged society. Even though Japan took 24 years, Korea is the most rapidly aging society in the world.
     This speedy transition is mainly due to the dramatic decline in birth rate and the significant improvement in life expectancy in Korean society. We know that the most significant reason for Korea’s rapidly aging population is definitely its low fertility rate. According to the CIA World Factbook, total fertility rate (TFR) in Korea was only 1.25 children per women in 2014. This number was the lowest birthrate among OECD countries. The average life expectancy of Koreans – 80 for men and 85 for women - has risen as the result of better living conditions. The greater longevity represents the achievement of medical, social and economic advances, but it also brings significant challenges.

A Graying Society Is Not only Korea’s Problem
     Korea’s rapidly aging population, paired with the low birthrate, is weakening its economic vitality. In other words, both the declining workforce and the weakening of domestic consumption are leading to an era of low economic growth.
     Furthermore, the rapidly graying population of the nation will have a significant impact on Korea’s socio-economic environment. When Korea has a high proportion of the elderly and a low proportion of working age, it is certain to experience the rising of fiscal burdens, capital shortages, and lower growth potential. When the country becomes an aging society, the elderly depend on the younger generation’s financial burdens for social costs, pension, health care, and support services.

▲ Social workers call for the government ot reform the current basic old-age pension. /Photo by Seoul Association of Social Workers

     A graying society is not only Korea’s problem. Many developed counties also have been experiencing similar phenomena, and thus they have adopted welfare policies to deal with the challenges related to graying societies. The Korean government has implemented several welfare policies to cope with an anticipated aging society. It established the long-term care insurance system for the elderly in 2008. It was intended to give greater security to those elderly who cannot take care of themselves in daily activities, including bathing and housework, due to their weak physical conditions or geriatric diseases. This system was created to reduce the burden on their families by providing various elderly services, including support for physical activities and housework services. Additionally, the Korea government has implemented the basic pension system for the elderly in July 2014, which was designed to provide financial support to elderly people who are not well prepared for their retirement due to rearing children and devotion to the nation. Caring for the elderly is no longer a family problem but a national issue.

How Can We Prepare for “Successful Aging?”
     Developed countries are pursuing welfare policy for the elderly in order to provide them with the baseline for 'successful aging' defined as i) healthy aging, ii) productive aging, and iii) integrated aging. First, many elderly people consider it important to maintain a healthy life for a longer period of time. Elderly people want to live under healthy conditions in their communities which they have been living in for a long time and have strong emotional ties with. Community facilities deliver services for the elderly, including in-home care, day and night care, short-term care, in-home bathing services, and in-home elderly support services.
     Second, elderly poverty is also a serious problem. Solving this problem is to promote their self-esteem through their production activities. In the long term, Elderly poverty should be addressed through pension, supplementary benefit, or medical assistance. Measures to maintain healthy conditions for successful aging are to help them continue their productive activities after retirement, through re-employment or community volunteer services.
     Third, OECD countries are trying to socially integrate programs for the elderly not only to meet social and psychological needs but also to prevent loneliness and alienation in their life. Examples are shared housing, echo-housing (Elder Cottage Housing Opportunities, ECHO), and third-generation housing. The integration among generations can also be made through, for example, leisure activities, religious activities, and social activities. In particular, the integration among generations will be activated through the promotion of volunteerism.
     Welfare policy for Korean elderly people needs to be developed for the direction of old people engaging themselves in socially integrated programs in various ways, which will eventually allow for preventing their isolation, maintaining their healthy life and promoting their self-reliance through productive activities. Are we ready for an “Aging Society?”

By Shim Mi-seung, ProfessorDept. of Public Administration

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