According to the National Statistical Office, South Korea will become a “hyper-aged” society by 2025. The speed at which this demographic transition is occurring is already having major economic and social repercussions, which are bound to worsen in the coming decades. Issues such as the funding of pension liabilities, pushing back the mandatory retirement age, incentivizing companies to retain their older workers, and dealing with the ever increasing elderly population living below the poverty line are already on top of the political agenda.
Population ageing is a very difficult topic to apprehend because it encompasses both philosophical aspects (such as the idea of solidarity between generations) and complex technical issues (for instance the arcanes of pension finance). We were very lucky to interview for this episode an expert with almost two decades of both research and practical experience in the field: Dr. Phang Hanam.
Dr. Phang is the President of the Korea Labor Institute (KLI) and the Korea Pension Association. He is also Professor at Yonsei University, and was Minister for Employment and Labor between March 2013 and July 2014 under current President Park Geun-hye. In his former capacity as Senior Research Fellow at KLI, he authored several academic papers on demographic trends and pension systems in South Korea and the region, with a focus on old-age income security and productivity issues.
After completing his B.A. at Hanguk University of Foreign Studies and earning an M.A. in Sociology from Vanderbilt University, Dr. Phang completed his PhD in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
[Elderly poverty] is one the dark sides of Korean society while [it’s] facing population aging. The way our pension system benefits labor is not so adequate compared to other international standards and one of the major causes or reasons that old age people have to turn to their own work or other self-help efforts is because the Korean pension system is not mature [and] other private plans are not so much widespread […] We need long term view and systematic reforms in terms of employment structure and also pension systems […] because they are closely related to individuals’ or society’s retirement income schemes.
The interview was recorded on June 30th in Sejong City.