Enjoying retirement is hard for many in South Korea as nearly half of the nation's elderly live in poverty, according to a report released Sunday. That rate was the highest among the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations studied, and economic woes have been seen as a contributing factor to the high suicide rates among South Korea's elderly. The OECD was formed to "promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world."
The report from the government-funded Korea Labor Institute showed that 48.6 percent of the country’s elderly were in poverty in 2011, defined as earning 50 percent or less of median household income. Switzerland came in second at 24 percent, nearly half that of South Korea’s rate. Israel and Chile followed, with 20.6 percent and 20.5 percent, respectively.
"The problem of poverty among the elderly population will get more serious when the country's elderly population grows further and baby boomers begin to retire in full swing," said Kim Bok-soon, an author of the report, according to the Korean news agency Yonhap. "The government's policy on the labor market needs to be changed so it can accept more elderly workers."
Contributing to the elderly poverty problem is the low net pension replacement rate of 45.2 percent (in 2012), falling well below the OECD average of 65.9 percent. Among OECD countries, South Korea had one of the lowest net pension replacement rates (the level of net pension entitlement divided by the net pre-retirement earnings). Only five other countries – Mexico, Japan, Britain, New Zealand and Ireland – had lower net replacement rates than South Korea, but those countries did not have an elderly poverty rate as high as Korea’s. The International Labor Organization recommended a net replacement rate of 70 to 80 percent, the report said, according to the Korea Times.
Low employment for retirees was another factor. South Korea had some 6.4 million senior citizens in 2014, which is about 15.1 percent of the population and 3.8 percent higher than two years ago, according to the report. Of these, only 2 million were employed. An estimated 74 percent of poverty-stricken elderly Koreans lived alone.
A 2013 report showed that the 2 percent rise in suicide rates from the previous year for South Korean elderly was caused by economic woes, according to Korean news site Hankyoreh. South Korea registered the highest suicide rates among OECD countries for a decade straight, according to the report, and the suicide rate for elderly men was double that of women. Economic troubles was the most common reason cited at 44.1 percent, followed by family problems at 11.4 percent, and disease or disability at 10.9 percent.