South Korea - A highly competitive society in nearly every aspect

Ipsos | Almanac | South Korea
The author(s)
  • Eunhae Yoo
  • Hwanglye Park

A fiercely competitive and stressed-out society

South Korea is a highly competitive society in nearly every aspect. From kindergartners to housewives, people of all ages, genders, and social status center their lives around strengthening their competitiveness. Education and employment are key areas in which this tendency can be observed, with younger generations spending prolonged hours at a myriad of private institutes to be accepted into prestigious universities and ultimately join top-tier companies.

According to the 2022 Ipsos Global Health Service Monitor, stress is considered to be one of the largest health concerns among respondents in Korea (35%), following only Argentina (39%) and Switzerland (39%).

Facing low population and economic growth in the long term

Transitioning from an aging society to a super-aged society in just 25 years

The 2022 Ipsos Global Health Service Monitor survey also shows that Korea recognizes aging as the biggest challenge facing their country’s healthcare system (51%), preceded only by Japan (52%).

Korea is currently considered the fastest-aging country in the world, having already been categorized as an aging society in 2000 and then an aged society in 2018. This is progressing even further as the baby boomers (born in 1955-1963) transition into being classified as elderly (over 65 years old). Korea is expected to become a super-aged society by 2025, with the elderly estimated to exceed 30% of the total population by 2035 and 40% by 2050.

While countries such as France, the United States, and Germany took 143 years, 88 years, and 77 years respectively to shift from an aging society to a super-aged society, that same transition will only take 25 years for Korea.

The old-age dependency ratio is the ratio of people 65 years and older (and typically no longer working) compared to the number of people of working age. From 1990 to 2020, this soared in Korea from 7.4 to 21.7. The outlook of the Korean population is no less dire, with the ratio expected to be 38.2 in 2030 and 60.1 in 2040. The working age population is thought to have already peaked at 37.6 million in 2019, and will only continue on its downward trend, to 33.8 million in 2030 and 28.5 million in 2040.

Korea is expected to become a super-aged society by 2025, with the elderly estimated to exceed 30% of the total population by 2035 and 40% by 2050

Economic growth expected to fall to 0.4% in the 2030s

Population aging poses a long-term effect on the overall economy and on society. Assuming that recent economic participation rates and labor productivity trends will continue, the Bank of Korea predicts that the economic growth rate of Korea will gradually decline from 3.9% (annual average from 2000 to 2015) to 1.9% (2016 to 2025) and 0.4% (2026 to 2035). The steep pace of aging and the decline in consumption due to lower earned income after retirement are collectively imposing a significant negative impact on the economic outlook of Korea.

Ipsos | Almanac | South Korea


What effect will inflation have on the polarization of consumption?

The November 2022 wave of Ipsos’ monthly international survey What Worries the World shows that the level of concern about inflation has more than doubled from the beginning of this year. Among various global issues, inflation is still Korea’s biggest concern at 41%. While 32% of the world describe the current economic situation in their respective countries as “good,” Korea has responded with a drastically lower evaluation at 12%. The proportion of people in Korea describing the country’s economic situation as “good” has only dropped this low on five other occasions over the past five years; two of them have been the past two months. 

According to Euromonitor International, the size of the Korean luxury market was approximately 16 trillion KRW in 2021, the seventh largest in the world. Luxury shopping is displaying a shift from offline to online channels, mainly among people in their 20s and 30s with purchasing power who tend to be more familiar with the digital environment.

As Korea enters the road to economic recovery under the “With Corona” policy, consumption polarization is intensifying due to recent rapid inflation. While high-end demand continues to grow, recognition of cost-effective consumption is also expanding simultaneously. In particular, Korea’s MZ generation tend to pursue smart consumption values in which they allocate their budget according to their own values and preferences for happiness.

Ipsos | Almanac | South Korea


What place does the metaverse have among Generation Z?

A new global survey conducted by Ipsos for the World Economic Forum finds that about half of adults across 29 countries are familiar with the metaverse (52%), with Korea ranking fourth (71%). Furthermore, 63% of Koreans have a positive perception on engaging with extended reality (XR; VR and AR) in daily life, thus showing a higher rate of familiarity and favorability toward these new technologies (metaverse and XR) than the global average (50%).

According to the Ipsos survey “Gen Z and the Metaverse,” South Korea’s Gen Z considers the virtual world as a platform that is full of opportunities to make money and have fun at the same time. They tend to define the metaverse as everything on the internet that they can communicate through and believe that there is little difference between the real world and the virtual world. Gen Z are closely connected to the friends they make in the virtual world and are familiar with finding and communicating with others who share the same interests in the metaverse. Furthermore, the metaverse is considered to be cheaper and more flexible than the real world, thus allowing users to more easily pursue their goals and challenge themselves with new realms. However, they do mention that the industry is still lacking high-quality virtual content that can utilize VR devices, and look forward to witnessing further technological developments in the future.

Ipsos | Almanac | South Korea


Seoul halloween crowd crush: launching discussions on public safety and accountability

South Korea is in mourning after an unthinkable Halloween tragedy took the lives of 156 people, most of whom were in their twenties and thirties. On October 29, as many as 100,000 people were gathered to celebrate Halloween in Itaewon, a popular area of Seoul well known for its multi-faceted culture and eclectic nightlife. With minimal personnel on site to divert the flow, the crowds quickly became uncontrollably large, ultimately causing a fatal crush in one of the notoriously narrow alleys of the neighborhood. Vividly graphic footage of the scene was circulated online in real time, allowing the whole world to watch on helplessly as the unimaginable continued to unfold in what is thought to be one of the most technologically advanced countries today. 

In the aftermath of this incident, a grief-stricken society has been questioning the government and the authorities on the lack of a preemptive crowd management system. In particular, younger generations are spearheading a nationwide call for accountability and public safety, with many firmly claiming that the crowd crush in Itaewon should have been an easily preventable disaster. Meanwhile, some key authority members are stating that this was an unfortunate incident with no clear entity at fault, due to the unorganized nature of the event. The question remains: will we see a future in which we are all truly safe, and how many lives must we lose until we reach that future?

Hwanglye Park

Eunhae Yoo