SEOUL, Mar. 16 (Korea Bizwire) — Kim Ju-yeon, a 36-year old office worker, lives in the room that she lived in as a teenager in Hanam city on the eastern outskirts of Seoul. In the next room, her younger brother, who graduated from university in February, is in residence, while her parents live in the master room.
Every month, she gives some money to her mother and father, who retired several years ago, but she does not pay for rent or food. Rather, she receives the “full service” of laundry, meals and a bed to sleep in from her mother, just as she has all her life.
Kim had dreams of having a trendy apartment to which she could invite friends for cool parties and later on of getting married and having children of her own.
But the reality is rather different in South Korea, where youngsters have been struggling with unemployment and low pay stemming from chronic sluggish economic growth.
She gave up her dream some time ago and decided to remain within her parents’ protective “nest” until she is ready. As a means of compensating for not living her life as planned, she goes on overseas trips two or three times a year and enjoys shopping whenever she has the time and money.
“I’m so used to living here with the whole family, and the cat. I don’t think I can live alone,” said Kim. “If I move out, I couldn’t afford the rent and other expenses.”
Meanwhile, her friend Choi Jung-in, a clinical psychologist, moved back to her parents’ house in Hanam two years ago, bringing years of unforgettable “independence” in Seoul to an end.
The decision was solely a financial one.
She had to spend at least 1 million won (US$940) per month on fixed outlays, including 600,000 won in rent for a tiny studio in Jamsil, western Seoul. But now, she needs only pay for the bus tickets to commute, and she actually thinks she is eating better and enjoying a healthier lifestyle.
“I had to manage my money carefully. Setting aside rent and living costs first and having cash left for clothes and going out,” she said. “It was hard to save money. It cost too much.”
Like Kim and Choi, there are plenty of people in South Korea who have either never ventured from their parents’ home or have moved back home in the face of reality.
One of the main contributing factors has been a tightened job market for young people that is making it harder for many to attain economic independence from their parents.
At the end of 2017 while in the grip of weak growth, Asia’s fourth-largest economy witnessed the unemployment rate for young people between 15 and 29 years of age reach 9.2 percent, nearly three times higher than the overall jobless rate of 3.3 percent.
According to a survey by Shinhan Bank, a leading lender in the country, 45.6 percent of 1,636 unmarried thirtysomethings live with their parents. The excessively high cost of living away from home was blamed by 39.2 percent for this arrangement, while 33.4 said they are temporarily living at home to save money.
A separate report by the Hyundai Research Institute showed a whopping 81.9 percent of youngsters who are paid less than 1 million won per month live with their parents.
At the same time, years of a low interest rates and real estate boom have led to higher housing prices, making it even harder for young people to find their own homes.
“It takes some time for young people to get jobs due to the tightened job market and financial burdens like student loans,” said Hong Joon-pyo, a senior analyst at Hyundai Research Institute.
The number of people tying the knot here has been on a steady decline for years. It was 302,800 in 2015, 281,700 in 2016, and was as low as 264,500 last year, according to separate data from Statistics Korea.
As a result of so-called “parasite singles,” or the “boomerang generation,” South Korean parents actually have to postpone their post-retirement life of freedom and keep working to care their adult kids. At the same time, they are increasingly obliged to look after their sick elderly parents due to the rapidly aging population.
A report by the private Mirae Asset Retirement Institute showed that about 34.5 percent of 2,001 people surveyed in their 50s and 60s are burdened with the responsibilities of caring for their children and their aged parents at the same time.
Social experts say such social developments are not only bad for young people but also their parents, who themselves are caught in a “double care” trap, and that these changes can bring about a host of unexpected consequences that may further pose challenges for the country.