Korean Sociological Image #88: Unhappy Korean children

Korean Child Unhappy Pencil Case(Source: Kevin Thai; CC BY-ND 2.0)

Via a friend of mine last year, came this OECD survey that found Korean children to be the least happy of all those in developed countries. Much more interesting than that finding though, which I’m sure came as no surprise to most readers, was the sense of perspective he provided, which looked towards the long-term:

Korean children OECD happiness indexPerhaps one of the more disturbing findings of Korean kids being the unhappiest as measured by the OECD is that on some level one could argue this is an extreme form of “delayed gratification” being imposed upon them; and therefore there is some justification for it. However, an important “release” is that delayed gratification is compensated for later in life. That’s quite important. But even here, South Koreans simply don’t get a break. Here’s your later in life measure (PDF; source, right).

Unfortunately, the doom and gloom continues in 2015, with this appearing in my feed as I began to type this post:

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family released a report claiming that happiness levels in the teen population have risen 5% in three years. Finding the reports unbelievable (according to a survey taken last year, Korean teens ranked last out of OECD countries in happiness levels), journalists investigated into the issue and found that the MOGEF manipulated the surveys to make the results seem positive.

Sigh. If anyone has any good news about Korean children, or prospects for 20-somethings for that matter, please pass it on!

Update: To offer something myself, see Korea Realtime to read about recent government initiatives to help (adult) students to study humanities and social sciences. Primarily, because the government is taking the rare, enlightened view that studying those subjects is an intrinsic public good that is in the county’s best long-term interests:

“In recent years, there has been a growing importance in policy for sustainable national development through improving quality of life and solving social problems,” said Oh Mi-hee, an official at the Ministry of Education, said in an emailed statement.

“The government is expanding support for humanities and social sciences in order to recognize this,” she said.

If you’ve ever taught (young) adults here, you’ll know that all too many of them feel trapped into studying subjects they don’t like for the sake of a job (which they also probably won’t like), so it’s great that they’re being given more opportunity to pursue something they enjoy instead. Also, one institution mentioned is using a ‘sharing-economy model’ tuition, so these initiatives are by no means only open to those with the financial luxury to put off job-hunting.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image Series, see here)

3 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #88: Unhappy Korean children

  1. Seems a lot of Korean parents are looking for fulfillment of their ego through their child. Their child is about them and not about the child. Change this and there well could be an increase in happiness.


    1. I’m sure that does occur in many cases, but I’d say many more Korean parents send their children to hagwons all hours and so on because they genuinely believe that that’s what’s best for their futures. While I don’t share their priorities, and think my kids having a fun, happy, and well-rested childhood is more important than getting into SNU when they’re 18, I understand their motivations, especially as they lack my privilege of being able to take my kids to the UK before things get too tough for them at school here.


  2. This is interesting. You can note that France doesn’t rank so good either. I think this kind of ‘problem’, the unhappiness, happens in very normative and formated societies, where happiness, especially that of a child, is not an issue. Where kids are the happier, as shown on the survey, are in open societies that allow different frames of thinking, different kind of norms, be them being religious, social, cultural norms, etc. In those societies, the individual as such has more margin to find its own ‘happiness’. Individualism is indeed a constant reproach thrown at those open societies. Happiness of kids are representative of the kind of society they live in: it’s either, to resume, a society of self-made people or a society where each of its member has to be dedicated to a greater whole than one-self. This is very pernicious. Kids in communist countries are not happy either for these very reasons. It is very depressing for kids, especially teenagers, to realize they may never have a chance to express who they are or want to be. In Japan, which doesn’t fare well either on the survey, young girls will go wild, and be creative and the moment they marry, they just disappear! And then Japan wonder what people don’t have kids! That goes for Italy too. Allow a society to loosen the reins of morals, of free speech, to relax in short, and you’ll have happier kids.


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