The report titled “The past, present and future of baby boomers as seen through the numbers” makes rather depressing reading.
Statistics Korea painted this profile of the Baby Boomer. Mr. B is a middle-aged Korean man, born in 1960 to a rural peasant father and housewife. His generation prided themselves as the unsung heroes of the nation’s rapid industrialization between the 1960s and 1980s, dedicating their lives to hard work and creating Korea Inc., often at the expense of their personal lives. Yet many were left unemployed by the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. And now they face the daunting task of supporting their elderly parents and helping their children, who struggle with high unemployment and prohibitively expensive housing.
There were a total of 7.12 million baby boomers, those who were born between 1955 and 1963. They account for 14.6 percent of Korea’s total population.
According to the statistics, Mr. B – the typical baby boomer – was born when the nation’s per-capita GDP was only $79, compared to $17,175 in 2009. B went to elementary and secondary schools with an average class size of 65 students, compared to 28 in 2009. B managed to enter college in 1979 when only 29 percent of male high school graduates went to college, compared to 82 percent now.
After college he got a job at a local manufacturing company in 1986, when 25.9 percent of salaried employees were working in the industrial sector against 23.6 percent in agriculture and 50.5 percent in services. Now the service industry is the biggest employer among local industries, hiring 76 percent of the nation’s paid workers, with only 16.4 percent in manufacturing and 7 percent in agriculture.
B married when he was 28 years old. The average marriage age in 2009 was 31.6 for men and 28.7 for women. B spent his 30s and 40s working hard, building his wealth from scratch and even buying his own house – one of his proudest achievements.
He spent heavily to support his aging parents and growing children, but saved little for his retirement life. B and most of his friends valued property more than any other investment, with real estate accounting for 80 percent of their total wealth on average. The steep increase in property prices over the last few decades helped property to account for a larger share of the asset portfolio.
The 50-year-old B is expected to live almost three more decades (28.89 years for 50-year-old males and 34.82 years for females), but the increasingly lower retirement age (57.14 years on average) is making it difficult for him to sleep at night. Since most of his assets are in real estate, he is short on cash and does not know how to support himself after retirement other than national pension payouts. About 47 percent of Korean males aged 50 to 59 said they will rely on the national pension for financial support in retirement, while 32 percent of the females in that age group said they would rely on bank savings and insurance.
B will soon join Korea’s rapidly aging population. The number of those aged 65 or older accounted for 7.2 percent of the total population in 2000, and the number is expected to expand to 14.3 percent in 2018 and 20.8 percent in 2026.
Ready to slit your wrists?