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[Editorial] Household change

A family comprising parents and two children has long been the Korean household prototype. But households are changing like everything else. A recent census has proven that model to be outdated. The new findings demand a change in housing, welfare and other government policies that are focused on the outdated prototype.

In 2000, households of four people ― mostly parents and children ― accounted for 31.5 percent of the total. They were followed by two-person households and one-person households. But one decade has made a drastic change in the household structure, with the number of one-person and two-person households now nearing half of the total.

According to the 2010 census, the result of which was made public last week, two-person households have come out on top. They account for 24.3 percent of the total, slightly higher than one-person households with 23.9 percent. Four-person households rank third with 22.5 percent.

Statistics Korea expects the fall of four-person households will accelerate, with a steep increase in the number of “empty nesters” foreseen in the years ahead. The proportion of people aged 65 or older in the total population is forecast to rise from 11 percent last year to 24.3 percent in 2030 and 38.2 percent in 2050. Moreover, people are getting married later, the birthrate is low ― well below the replacement level ― and a growing number of people are getting divorced.

The change in household structure demands a shift ― foremost among others ― in housing policy. Homebuilders are focused on mid-size and large apartment houses at a time when their demand is projected to decline as two-person families and those living alone are looking for smaller places. According to a report from a research institute on urban development, Seoul’s metropolitan area will experience a shortage of 440,000 small apartments and a surplus of 180,000 mid-size and large apartments in 2013.

Housing experts say that the size of an apartment suitable for two-person families and people living alone is 60 square meters or smaller. But the government’s housing policy is focused on building 85-square-meter apartments for four-person families. The mismatch of demand and supply is raising the rent of small apartments at higher rates than that of mid-size and large apartments.

The government will also have to make a change in its welfare policy, particularly in favor of aged persons living alone without care. They need greater support from the government.
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