Wealth inequality in South Korea

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The dismal science
Icon economics.svg
Economic systems

  $  Free market
  €  Social democracy
  ☭ Socialist economy

Major concepts
The worldly philosophers

Wealth inequality in South Korea is notably much more pronounced than most other countries in the wider developed world. Specifically, it is the extent to which wealth, most commonly measured by household or individual, is distributed in an uneven manner in South Korea.

According to government data curated during the late 2010s, low-income earners, which relates to earning ₩11 million (US$9,439.16) or less annually, make up to 40% of South Korea's entire labour force.[1] Conversely, the highest income earners, which relates to earning ₩100 million (US$85,810.58 or more annually, make up only 1% of the labour force. In general, 98.7% of South Koreans make less than ₩90 million (US$77,229.52) annually.[1] According to 2015 data, 63% of workers make less than ₩31.05 million (US$26,644.18) annually.[2]

In response, many South Koreans especially of the younger generation feel that they have not benefited from the country's periods of economic growth, and have criticized the socioeconomic situation and class stratification in the country, even dubbing a specific term of "Hell JoseonWikipedia" (헬조선).[3] The problem is significant enough that there has been two successive generations whereby many have given up on courtship, marriage, and having kids due to the high costs of living and unemployment, known as the Sampo generationWikipedia and N-po generation.Wikipedia[4][5]


Much of the country's income inequality can be attributed to the dominance of chaebolsWikipedia (재벌), which include multinational companies such as SamsungWikipedia and LG,Wikipedia seen by many South Koreans as being highly corrupt and influential in the political system.[6][7]

The country also has the highest levels of poverty among the elderly in the developed world.[8] In 2018, about half of the country's elderly lived in poverty, three times the OECD average, with many of them homeless.[9] As a result, South Korea regularly claims the highest suicide rate in the OECD and the wider developed world.[10]

Effects on South Korean youth[edit]

Wealth inequality is often linked to low or limited social mobility, a situation which may instill a sense of hopelessness among South Korea's youth.[11] Gambling, though extremely limited due to its legality in South Korea, can be a dangerous source of debt for South Koreans who are susceptible to gambling addiction.[12] In 2017, the easy availability of cryptocurrrency in South Korea,[13] combined with a lack of legal outlets for gambling, has contributed to gambling problems and associated debt.[14] Others have also been led to suicide, which has remained the leading cause of deaths for a number of years.[15]

Government view[edit]

In January 2019, president Moon Jae-in's economic adviser Kim Hyun-chul was forced to resign amid severe public anger and criticism after disparaging that young, unemployed Korean graduates or retirees who couldn't find a job in the country should stop "blaming the country and the government" and to "leave the country to become Korean language teachers".[16]

In popular culture[edit]

  • DefaultWikipedia, a South Korean drama film, portrays how the 1997 financial crisis affected South Koreans differently, with the middle and working classes disproportionately affected.[17]
  • The film, ParasiteWikipedia by Bong Joon-hoWikipedia, depicted drastic inequality between South Korea's wealthy and the poor.[18]
  • Hwang Dong-hyukWikipedia, director and writer of the South Korean survival drama television series Squid GameWikipedia, mentioned that he conceived the idea of the show based on his own personal experiences witnessing the drastic class disparity within the country, as well as his own severe economic struggles early in his life.[19][20][21]


  • Snodgrass, Donald R. (1977) (in en). Education and Economic Inequality in South Korea. Harvard Institute for International Development, Harvard University. 
  • Koo, Hagen (2008). "The Changing Faces of Inequality in South Korea in the Age of Globalization". Korean Studies 31 (1): 1–18. doiWikipedia:10.1353/ks.2008.0018. 
  • Burt, Matthew E.; Namgi, Park (2008). "Education Inequality in the Republic of Korea: Measurement and Causes". Inequality in Education: 261–289. doiWikipedia:10.1007/978-90-481-2652-1_11. 
  • An, Chong-Bum; Bosworth, Barry (2013) (in en). Income Inequality in Korea: An Analysis of Trends, Causes, and Answers. Harvard University Asia Center. 
  • Shin, Kwang-Yeong; Kong, Ju (31 December 2014). "Why Does Inequality in South Korea Continue to Rise?". Korean Journal of Sociology 48 (6): 31. doiWikipedia:10.21562/kjs.2014. 
  • Chiang, Min-Hua (September 2017). Contemporary South Korean Economy: Challenges and Prospects. doiWikipedia:10.1142/9789813207240_0005. 
  • Shin, Kwang-Yeong (17 September 2020). "A new approach to social inequality: inequality of income and wealth in South Korea". The Journal of Chinese Sociology (South Korea) 7 (1): 17. doiWikipedia:10.1186/s40711-020-00126-7. 
  • Park, Sehoon; Park, Gi Chan; Park, Jina; Kim, Ji Eun; Yu, Mi-yeon; Kim, Kwangsoo; Park, Minsu; Kim, Yong Chul et al. (February 2021). "Disparity in Accessibility to and Prognosis of Kidney Transplantation According to Economic Inequality in South Korea: A Widening Gap After Expansion of Insurance Coverage". Transplantation 105 (2): 404–412. doiWikipedia:10.1097/TP.0000000000003256. 

External links[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 하우맘. "연봉금액별 인구수 및 근로소득액" (in ko). 
  2. "근로소득자의 양극화" (in ko). 
  3. Williams, Mike (30 January 2020). "'Hell Joseon' and the South Korean generation pushing to a breaking point". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  4. "Lashing out at "Hell Joseon", young’uns drive ruling party’s election beatdown". 
  5. Qian, Yue (26 February 2019). "Why young people in South Korea are staying single despite government’s efforts to spark dating". Scroll.in. 
  6. Marlow, Iain (24 April 2015). "South Korea’s chaebol problem" (in en-CA). 
  7. Albert, Eleanor (4 May 2018). "South Korea’s Chaebol Challenge". Council of Foreign Relations. "A group of massive, mostly family-run business conglomerates, called chaebol, dominates South Korea’s economy and wields extraordinary influence over its politics." 
  8. Jeon, B., Haruko, N., Soonman, K., Tomoko, I., & Nanako, T. (2017). Disability, poverty, and role of the basic livelihood security system on health services use among the elderly in South Korea. In Social Science & Medicine,(178), 175–183. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  9. Shin, Ji-Hye. "Why do old people pick up cardboard in Seoul?". The Korea Herald. 
  10. Evans, Stephen (5 November 2015). "Korea's hidden problem: Suicidal defectors". BBC News. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: British Broadcasting Corporation. "South Korea consistently has the highest suicide rate of all the 34 industrialized countries in the OECD." 
  11. Chang, Ha-Joon (25 February 2018). "How to Break Korea's Barriers to Social Mobility". New Europe. 
  12. "Household Debt Bomb". Undercover Asia. 7 April 2020. 
  13. "South Korea's Cryptocurrency Addiction Explained". Foreign Exchange Live. 26 February 2018. 
  14. "[SNS돋보기 '일확천금' 비트코인 중독…"도박보다 무섭네""] (in ko). 
  15. "Suicide remains leading cause of death for S. Korean teens, youths". Korea Herald. 
  16. "Moon’s economic adviser resigns over ‘Hell Joseon’ jab". Korea JoongAng Daily. 29 January 2019. 
  17. "영화 '국가부도의 날'이 주는 교훈, "위기는 반복된다, 잊지 말자 IMF사태"" (in ko). 4 April 2019. 
  18. Bloomberg, David Fickling |. "Analysis | What 'Parasite' Misses About Inequality in South Korea" (in en). 
  19. Sit, Jane; Kang, Liz (7 October 2021). "'Squid Game' director Hwang Dong-hyuk: 'This is a story about losers'". CNN. 
  20. Young, Jin Yu. "Behind the Global Appeal of ‘Squid Game,’ a Country’s Economic Unease". The New York Times. 
  21. Frater, Patrick (24 September 2021). "‘Squid Game’ Director Hwang Dong-hyuk on Netflix’s Hit Korean Series and Prospects for a Sequel (EXCLUSIVE)".