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Who should qualify as a 'senior citizen?'

(Korea Joongang Daily, 2024-02-01)

 

The intensifying debate over Korea's free subway rides program for older adults has thrust a fundamental question into the spotlight: Who, exactly, qualifies as a senior citizen?

Since 1981, Korea has allowed those aged 65 and over to take free rides on the subway.

The policy has once again received attention after the tentatively named New Reform Party, led by former People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok, pledged to scrap the current system that allows free subway rides for the elderly as part of its election campaign on Jan. 18.

Heated debate over the policy is expected to continue until April's general election, given its economic implications.

Experts point out that the age criterion set for defining senior citizenship, rather than the debate over freeriding, is essentially the problem at hand. 

Some feel that an aging society coupled with a rapidly decreasing working-age population places a substantial financial burden on the younger generation — ultimately raising the question of what age should be considered “senior,” and when people should be eligible to receive welfare benefits such as pensions and incentives.

“A simple [debate over] whether senior citizen transportation benefits should be reduced or not is downplaying the issue,” said Jung Jae-hoon, a professor of social welfare policy at Seoul Women’s University. “The issue of freeriding is connected to economic disparities between senior citizens and welfare sustainability, and, as such, must be regarded as a problem of raising the age criteria,” he added.

The official standard defining people 65 or older as senior citizens was set in 1981 as part of a preferential treatment scheme for older people under the Welfare of Senior Citizens Act. Though different laws have varying age cutoffs defining a senior citizen, most major welfare policies, including the free transportation program, set the cutoff at 65. 

But as the average Korean life span becomes longer, the 40-year-old standard is being questioned.

Around 52.7 percent of older people think “old age” should start between 70 and 74, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s survey of 10,097 senior citizens in 2020.

Older Seoul residents defined the start of old age as an average of 72.6 years on a 2022 survey of 3,010 people.

“I’m turning 65 next year but I don’t feel as if I’m old. I don’t like it when someone calls me an elder,” said a 64-year-old Gyeonggi resident named Park. “I think the age standard for senior citizens could be raised to 68 or 70.”

The increasing financial burden on the working population to pay for senior citizen welfare, accelerated by low birthrates and an aging society, backs the need for a raise in the standard age defining senior citizens.

[Excerpt]

 

- URL: https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/2024-02-01/business/economy/Who-should-qualify-as-a-senior-citizen/1971485