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Generational harmony

Publication Date : 04-01-2013


Last month’s presidential election highlighted a growing generational divide as well as deep-rooted ideological and regional rivalries in the country. President-elect Park Geun-hye, a conservative, garnered support from more than two-thirds of voters aged 50 or older. But she saw her liberal rival, Moon Jae-in, secure about the same proportion of ballots cast by voters in their 20s and 30s, according to estimates based on exit polls.

The election outcome has deepened the sense of frustration among young people, some of whom recently launched an online petition campaign calling for reducing or repealing welfare benefits for elderly citizens.

Park tried to win the hearts of young people by putting forward measures to cut college costs and create more jobs for them. But her efforts failed to convince young voters, many of whom turned to the liberal candidate as a better option for easing or settling their difficulties.

Recent figures from the state statistics agency showed younger people having decreasing job opportunities and slowing income growth. The number of jobs taken by 20-somethings shrank by 5.1 per cent from a year earlier to 2.59 million in 2012, while the figure for 50-somethings increased by 11.3 per cent to 2.63 million. The average income of households headed by those in their 40s and 50s grew at a faster pace than families led by people in their 20s and 30s for five consecutive quarters since the July-September period last year.

The data may partly vindicate the grievances held by young people that they are being deprived of their due opportunities to live decent lives as full members of society.

It is undesirable for younger people to become hostile and throw invectives against their elders. But it is more undesirable to leave them in frustration and despair. Our society as a whole should give more serious consideration to pulling the younger generations, who will take charge of its future, out of their funk and enabling them to move forward.

With ideological conflicts gradually diminished amid increasing efforts by political parties to expand their support bases into the center ground, a generational rift is feared to widen, especially over the issues of employment and welfare benefits. Korea, which needs national reconciliation to move beyond the old paradigm of industrialisation and democratization, cannot afford to let generational struggles hamper its efforts to create a prosperous future.

In the immediate term, measures should be worked out to create more jobs ― especially good, well-paid work ― for young people in a way that will minimise conflicts of interest with elderly employees.

The incoming government and political parties should also avoid being tempted to put overemphasis on benefits for older people, whose growing number is expected to translate into a greater voice in future elections. It must be reminded that, in an era of intensifying global competition, the nation’s continuous development and advancement will eventually depend on whether and how to invigorate younger generations and activate their creative power.

Young people, for themselves, need to be more determined to get through difficulties on their own and try to understand that the choice of elderly voters might have been motivated by their concerns over the country’s course, not necessarily by their generational interests.


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