Koreans in their 50s and 60s, many of them belonging to the Korean “baby boomer generation,” were the driving force behind the country’s breakneck rise from being one of the poorest countries to one of the world’s wealthiest.
Believing that hard work and persistence would lead to success, they sacrificed weekends, holidays and much of their personal time to work, making possible the “Miracle on the Han River.”
On the political front, they were witness to the country’s turbulent journey to democracy from decades of authoritarian regimes, including the 18 years under military strongman Park Chung-hee, the father of President-elect Park Geun-hye. Those years were a dark period of political suppression, yet many look back on the days with nostalgia because of the high economic growth and full employment.
Raised in traditional Confucian values, they had to embrace westernized individual rights and lifestyle changes brought on by technological innovations. For this, some sociologists call them the “sandwich” generation, caught between tradition and the future.
Today, their main concern is retirement or life after retirement.
Instead of enjoying the good life after an arduous working life, it seems that many of the boomers are likely to undergo financial difficulties as they have spent most of their income on their parents and children. It is expected that many will be forced to continue working, if even for low wages, in order to make ends meet.
Nearly 70 percent of their assets are tied up in the home they live in, making them sensitive to any change in property market policies.
“Above all, the 50-plus generation have first-hand experience of Korea’s miraculous economic growth, something that the younger generations don’t have,” said Hong Kyung-jun, a professor at Sungkyunkwan University.
The prospect that the nation may take a drastic shift to welfare away from growth may come as a threat to them, as it could bring about changes to their already fragile future, he added.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)