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About Young People in Korea: Social Aspect
Unlike their parents who experienced the Korean War and struggled economically, young adults in Korea grew up in a more well-off environment. Their thoughts and actions are more reasonable and progressive than the older generation and they have a liberal and flexible mindset that is not limited by traditions or stereotypes. They also have great interest in the quality of life and realizing their potential.
Living in the era of advanced information technology, young people in Korea are tech-savvy and easily adapt to the rapidly changing environment. According to OECD Fact Book 2011-2012, 95.9% of the households in Korea are connected to the Internet, the highest in the world. Korea also leads the world in terms of smartphone penetration (67.6%) and subscribers to the 4G telecom service (54.0%). And young adults accounted for the largest portion of the latter two rates in Korea.
Thanks to such an environment, today’s young adults actively express themselves and value individualism, which is quite different from the traditional Confucian values. They also care much about forming social relationship and exchanging information. As such, they make friends online, share information and feature horizontal debate culture. They pursue fun and challenges, freely express their desires and immediately act on their thoughts instead of resisting or hesitating to do so.
There are quite many ways to describe the young adult generation, and one of them is an acronym CHIEF which stands for challenge, human network, individualism, experience and fun/feelings. Young people in Korea challenge the authority and stereotypes and have their own way of thinking. They value human networking, which can be seen in how they love to share information with others and join a group that shares opinions or hobbies. Individualism indicates how they emphasize diversity. They have no qualms about saying what they do or do not like and believe different opinions are necessary for development of society. They are very interested in experiencing many things. For example, it is important to check in person or even experience a product before making a purchase. Finally, fun, pleasure and feelings are important. These features indicate why young adults are bound to lead social changes.
Meanwhile, young people in Korea grew up in a culture of competition as they were forced to survive in the education system where much emphasis is placed on grades. As a result, they relentlessly compare themselves to others and strive to reach a higher position. However, competition continues into adulthood as they must vie with others in terms of resume contents (e.g., English test scores, university education including school name, degrees and GPA, overseas experience, etc.) to land jobs, job performance at work, physical appearance and image and wealth.
In a survey conducted by a Korean broadcaster SBS and a research firm Gallup Korea, participants scored 76 for the level of social competition. The figure is almost 20 points higher than a decade ago and indicates competition has intensified over time. Eight out of ten respondents said that they feel burdened by overheated competition.
Indeed, young adults live in an era of unlimited competition. They are exposed to a system of competition built over past several decades and their participation is forced from early years of their lives. As a result, young people struggle with uncertainties about the future.
Many expressions have been recently coined to depict the struggling young adults of today. One of them is that the generation has given up three things: dating, marriage, and baby. For financial reasons, young people give up what they naturally do in their 20s and 30s. Some even drop out of the job market or social network. As such “three/four-give up generation” refers to young adults who have given up or unlimitedly postponed romantic relationship, marriages or a plan to have a baby due to insecure jobs, tuition loans, never-ending job searches and excessive costs for living such as skyrocketed housing costs. In addition to said financial difficulties, young people are overwhelmed by social pressure. Today, a widespread view in Korea is that someone is a “loser” or has “failed” if he/she does not have a top-notch resume or joined one of the household name companies in Korea. Amid the atmosphere, a romantic relationship is luxury which not many can afford.
Another term has to do with university tuitions which now near KRW 10 million. In the Korean language, the expression is “albuja jok” (albuja for a very rich person and jok for a clan or tribe). Ironically, the term describes students who are far placed from being well-off. Instead, they must work part-time, which is commonly referred by Koreans as “arbeit” or “alba” in short, to pay their tuition. As some must work multiple part-time shifts (al from alba) in one day, they are rich (buja in Korean) in that sense, and thus the term albuja. A similar term is a “KRW 5,000 jok” referring to students who must subsist on KRW 5,000 per day.
Some young adults fall in the category of an “Ikea generation”. Sweden’s furniture company Ikea is well-known to offer adequate quality products at affordable prices. In Korea, Ikea products are popular among newly weds or career beginners. Some people in their 20s and 30s are equipped with high-level of education but find it difficult to plan their future due to insecure jobs. It is not because they are any less qualified than the older generation, but because available jobs tend to be short-term and low-paying ones. Add ever rising housing costs and consumer prices, the generation barely makes ends meet. For them, planning for the future is simply luxury beyond their reach.
However, there is a silver lining. Young adults are also expected to bring a paradigm shift given their active across-the-board participation in society, passion and potential power. For that, they are also called a “P generation”. All of us should help them wisely overcome difficulties so that they can make changes necessary to our society. It is important to share the understanding that abovementioned young adult issues are not simply their challenges, but a reality that should be addressed by society as a whole.