The Korea Herald


Book explores retirement trends in Korea

By Claire Lee

Published : Sept. 5, 2013 - 20:03

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A recently published collection of academic papers explores retirement trends in the Korean job market, focusing on the impact of forced retirement at a young age ― mid-50s for most workers ― and how it affects individuals.

Coedited by scholars Thomas R. Klassen and Yang Yun-jeong, the book, titled “Korea’s Retirement Predicament: The Aging Tiger,” comprises a total of 10 academic papers regarding retirement issues in Korea and overseas, including income security for the elderly, retirement pension plans and immigration. 

“Whereas governments in most Western nations seek to delay retirement, Korean policymakers, employers and workers face a situation in which workers have long working lives but, paradoxically, also face early retirement,” write Thomas R. Klassen, a professor at Canada’s York University, and Yu Kun-ha, chief editorial writer of The Korea Herald.

“As such, the Korean government and its social partners must undertake a more fundamental restructuring of labor market policies in response to an aging population.”

Chung Soon-dool, a professor at Ewha Womans University Graduate School of Social Welfare, and Yang Yun-jeong, an assistant professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Graduate School of International and Area Studies, examine the issues revolving around Korean women and their retirement.

“For retired and thus ‘non-working’ women, it is simply natural to provide free care services for grandchildren,” their article says. “Some older women said they hesitated about seeking another job, because they were expecting grandchildren soon. (Korean) women themselves prioritize family care over paid work and, in a few cases, they were sacrificing job opportunities to mind their grandchildren for the convenience of their children, even when they needed additional income.”

Ann H. Kim, an associate professor at Canada’s York University, on the other hand, examines the lives of older Korean immigrants in Canada ― those who migrated at 40 years of age or older, after receiving their lump-sum payments upon forced retirement ― particularly highlighting conditions “related to retirement in Korea and immigration policies in Canada.”

The particular group was less likely to have a university degree and live in an owner-occupied dwelling, and more likely to live in poverty, according to her research.

“The results showed that age at migration among seniors is an important factor in shaping social and economic integration in Canada, especially concerning issues of legal citizenship, linguistic isolation, living arrangements, home ownership, poverty, reliance on government assistance and the availability of private sources of income,” Kim writes.

Yang Jae-jin of Yonsei University studies the Korean welfare state, focusing on income security policies and programs.

“Until two decades ago, Korea did not have a viable old age income security system,” Yang writes in “Welfare State and Income Security for the Elderly in Korea.”

“During the state-led industrialization from the 1960s to the 1980s, the government channeled its available sources into economic development. ... One way to address Korea’s retirement income funding problems is to increase the age of contractual retirement, or eliminate a retirement age altogether. An immediate result is that workers would contribute longer to the national pension plan, helping to stabilize it.”

By Claire Lee (