In the new, hyper-modernized South Korea, many older people feel that they have been left abandoned, obsolete, and penniless. A dark omen of things to come in developed societies around the world with focuses on technology and individualism, and shredded social safety nets? The New York Times reports:
The number of people 65 and older committing suicide has nearly quadrupled in recent years, making the country’s rate of such deaths among the highest in the developed world. The epidemic is the counterpoint to the nation’s runaway economic success, which has worn away at the Confucian social contract that formed the bedrock of Korean culture for centuries.
That contract was built on the premise that parents would do almost anything to care for their children — in recent times, depleting their life savings to pay for a good education — and then would end their lives in their children’s care. No Social Security system was needed. Nursing homes were rare.
But as South Korea’s hard-charging younger generations joined an exodus from farms to cities in recent decades, or simply found themselves working harder in a hypercompetitive environment, their parents were often left behind. Many elderly people now live out their final years poor, in areas with the melancholy feel of ghost towns.
The law denies welfare to people whose children are deemed capable of supporting them. That leaves some parents the humiliating choice of asking for help from their children or their government. The number of suicides among other adults and teenagers also surged, though those deaths are generally attributed to the stress of living in a highly competitive society rather than the changes in the family structure that are driving the elderly to despair.