Survey: inheritance of wealth is causing Korea’s rising inequality
Data collected illustrates the need for measures to ease social mobility in South Korean society
By Jeon Jong-hwi, staff reporter
Almost nine out of ten Koreans believe that growing inequality is a major problem in Korean society, according to the results of a public opinion poll conducted by the Hankyoreh Institute for Social Policy over December 22-23. 42.7% of the 1000 respondents answered that it is a “very serious problem”, while 42.2% answered that it’s a “serious problem”. Only 9% answered that inequality is not a serious problem.
Three out of ten Koreans believe that passing between generations through inheritance is the greatest cause of the inequality in South Korea.
Other popular answers were “inequality in the job market,” including the huge increase in irregular jobs and discrimination (22.2%); “bias based on educational background” (16.5%); and an “insufficient social safety net” (14.7%). The implication is that Koreans believe that passing down the wealth accumulated inside a single family is the cause of the polarization seen in Korean society.
This same polarization can also be seen in how people view the causes for social disparity. Generally speaking, respondents in their 40s or below (37.2%), who had attended university (38.0%), who were in the middle or upper classes with a monthly household income of at least 4 million won (US$3,761) (40.5%), who were self-employed (40.0%), or who were white collar workers (38.4%) said inheritance of wealth is the biggest reason for the intensifying divide.
However, respondents who had completed middle school or less (33.8%), who had an income below 2 million won (US$1,880) (33.0%), or who were blue collar workers (30.5%) identified inequality in the labor market as the primary cause. People who support themselves with their own labor are highly aware of the awful reality of labor inequality.
The difference in viewpoint between classes is clear. It could even be said that the dissatisfaction of irregular workers, who are largely composed of people with low income and little education, is revealed in this survey.
“Irregular workers and other parts of the working class are pointing to why it’s so hard to escape from poverty, no matter how hard you try,” said Han Gwi-yeong, a researcher at the Hankyoreh Institute for Social Policy.
“On the other hand, people who are highly educated or in the middle class see society as being high stratified. According to this view, one’s status is determined not so much by recognition of and compensation for one’s ability, but rather the inheritance of wealth.”
The survey shows that, compared to other age groups, the younger generation feels more strongly about the severity of university bias. 23.7% of people in their twenties said that university bias is the primary cause of social disparity, 7.2% higher than the average. If this is narrowed to those of university age (19-24 years old), and 27.7% perceive university bias to be a more severe problem than wealth inheritance (27.2%).
In contrast, only 11.0% of people in their 30s, who already have work experience, chose university bias. This was the lowest percentage among all age groups.
While education is generally regarded as the vehicle for class mobility, twice as many respondents had a negative view of how education functions in Korean society. When asked whether education is doing its job in resolving social disparity, 63.8% said no, with only 31.6% responding in the affirmative.
There was also a distinct difference in perception between generations. 72.2% of people below the age of 40 had a negative take on the question, compared to 46.9% of people aged 60 or above.
This can be seen as a result of the difference in experience between those who currently have children in middle or high school and those in their 60s or above who had comparatively more opportunities to improve their status through education.
“The survey results seem to show a sense of loss resulting from education policies over the past five years,” said Jang Eun-suk, president of the National Parent Association for Real Education. “In the future, we need policies that allow people to make the move from rags to riches.”
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