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[Feature] More Korean workers economically dependent on parents

High apartment prices and debt level aggravate burden of both young workers and retired seniors

South Korean college graduates in their mid-and late 20s are finding it increasingly difficult to land a job.

Despite several government-led measures to increase youth employment over the past decade, a high proportion of young job seekers are still getting rejection slips from enterprises.

As a result, those who have no regular income often rely their parents even after they turn 30.

Latest polls show that more and more Koreans in their 20s and 30s are scrapping plans for marriage.

More serious is that even those with jobs are not moving out of their parents’ homes.

Graphic by Park Gee-young
Graphic by Park Gee-young

A male salaried worker surnamed Park, 35, works at a company affiliated with a conglomerate. He commutes between his parents’ house in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, and his workplace in downtown Seoul.

“I have a seven-year career and my annual wage is above those of my university friends,” Park said. “But I’ve decided to delay getting married at least until I purchase an apartment.”

Park said his decision was based on the skyrocketing housing prices in the Seoul metropolitan area.

Park agreed that he belongs to the so-called “kangaroo class” in Korea, who get economic support from their parents even though they are in their late 20s and 30s.

A host of polls showed that the number of Koreans in their 30s and 40s, who belong to the kangaroo bracket, are estimated to have surpassed 500,000 across the nation, which takes up 1 percent of the population.

According to the data from Statistics Korea, more than half of the kangaroo class are unemployed or have little intention of finding a job.

Last month, online employment portal Saramin released a poll on 1,274 salaried people over economic dependency upon their parents. The result showed that 36.7 percent, or 468 of the respondents, said they belonged to the kangaroo class.

The 468 workers said that their parents support 300,000 won ($280) a month on the average.

Hyundai Research Institute research fellow Hong Joon-pyo said in a report that the government needed to “ease the interest payment burden for young salaried workers and expand support for housing.”

He picked the growing debt held by young workers as a reason for the swelling kangaroo bracket.

More and more college graduates are saddled with the debt related to student loans and expenses for job-seeking activities in Seoul and other major cities.

Unlike previous generations, many of young job seekers view purchasing their own home as pie in the sky.

According to Statistics Korea, it would take 12 1/2 years for salaried workers in their 20s and 30s to buy an average-priced apartment worth 554.8 million won in Seoul. The calculation is based on the assumption that they should save all of their monthly wage (estimated at 3.71 million won) for the period.

A male college graduate, 28, residing in Seoul said the kangaroo class problem was not an issue of employment but parental wealth.

“I have a job and several installment savings accounts,” he said. “But I have no plan to save cash to buy a house here. I’m considering becoming a farmer in the coming years.”

Many experts say that the nation is going through something that has already hit advanced countries such as the US and Japan.

For instance, North America had its “boomerang kids” -- those who move back to their parents’ homes after living on their own.

The arrangement can take many forms, ranging from situations that mirror the high dependency of pre-adulthood to highly independent, separate-household arrangements.

The trend is spreading in big US cities such as California, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. In Japan, its state data showed that 1 in 6 adults aged between 35 and 44 are living with in their parents’ homes.

Koh Kang-sub, a researcher at Young Professionals Institute of Korea, said the kangaroo class phenomenon is a social structural problem.

“We should stop pointing the finger of blame at the kangaroo class,” Koh said. “Korean society should make efforts to resolve the problem by gathering public opinions and mapping out measures for structural improvement.”

By Kim Yon-se (