Wealth inequality in South Korea
|The dismal science|
|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. 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. According to 2015 data, 63% of workers make less than ₩31.05 million (US$26,644.18) annually.
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 Joseon" (헬조선). 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 generation and N-po generation.
Much of the country's income inequality can be attributed to the dominance of chaebols (재벌), which include multinational companies such as Samsung and LG, seen by many South Koreans as being highly corrupt and influential in the political system.
The country also has the highest levels of poverty among the elderly in the developed world. In 2018, about half of the country's elderly lived in poverty, three times the OECD average, with many of them homeless. As a result, South Korea regularly claims the highest suicide rate in the OECD and the wider developed world.
Effects on South Korean youth
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. 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. In 2017, the easy availability of cryptocurrrency in South Korea, combined with a lack of legal outlets for gambling, has contributed to gambling problems and associated debt. Others have also been led to suicide, which has remained the leading cause of deaths for a number of years.
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".
In popular culture
- Default, a South Korean drama film, portrays how the 1997 financial crisis affected South Koreans differently, with the middle and working classes disproportionately affected.
- The film, Parasite by Bong Joon-ho, depicted drastic inequality between South Korea's wealthy and the poor.
- Hwang Dong-hyuk, director and writer of the South Korean survival drama television series Squid Game, 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.
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- Rising inequalities in South Korea by the East Asia Forum
- 하우맘. "연봉금액별 인구수 및 근로소득액" (in ko).
- "근로소득자의 양극화" (in ko).
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- Sit, Jane; Kang, Liz (7 October 2021). "'Squid Game' director Hwang Dong-hyuk: 'This is a story about losers'". CNN.
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