The Korea Herald


Silver industry thrives to cater for baby boomers


Published : Aug. 11, 2011 - 19:22

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All-in-one silver towns, job training all part of burgeoning new business

To mark the 58th anniversary of its establishment on Aug. 15, The Korea Herald is publishing a series of articles on the looming retirement of Korean baby boomers and its socioeconomic impact on the nation. The following is the fifth of the eight-part series. ― Ed.

The 2008 movie “Mamma Mia!” may be corny, but it proves with its depiction of women and men in their 50s gamely churning their bodies to the music and seeking out romance that being older does not mean being “out of it.”

The list of films focusing on the often overlooked aspects of the lives of senior citizens goes on, and even Koreans who are for the most part still uneasy about how they should act when they get older are embracing the changing trends.

Romance has become quite a significant part of their lives, and it reflects the passion with which they pursue fun even after they pass middle age.

They want to stay healthy and be stable, but at the same time not lose the vigor they had when they were younger.

This is the mindset of the baby-boomers ― or at least the youngish generation of the so-called “late boomers” who are now in their early to mid-50s.

The new trend has set off in motion the “silver industry” that caters to the needs of this generation.

According to estimates, the industry is expected to produce added-value of almost 7 trillion won ($6.4 billion) this year, up significantly from the 4.3 trillion won last year.

This is understandable considering that up to 15 percent of Korea’s population of 50 million consists of baby-boomers.

With Korea aging rapidly, more than one-quarter of the population will be aged 65 years or older in the next two decades.

All-in-one silver towns

Healthier diets, new hobbies and medical services are all a part of the silver industry that is getting a boost as more boomers come of age, but they are all trivial compared to the new trend for building “silver neighborhoods,”

The most significant idea that the baby-boomers have in common is that they don’t want to live with their children.

Surveys show that despite being a “Sandwich Generation” that has to care for their elderly parents while at the same time supporting their children, many choose not to depend on their offspring.

This means that there is the inevitable need for more service industries to cater to senior citizens who want to stay independent, industry watchers say.

The concept of all-in-one silver towns where the boomers can enjoy themselves, while at the same time having access to sufficient medical support, was born out of this new need.

“Prices have to come down, and it has to be a place where senior citizens can feel like home with all the entertainment they can imagine from sports to hobbies, while at the same time they can get medical care,” said Lee Dong-il, head of the Korea Silver Industry Association, which specializes in providing consulting to those seeking to jump into the silver industry.

This means the homes in the silver towns need to be close to hospitals, while funeral services also must be in the vicinity, Lee said, stressing that the diversity of services means there is much to look forward to in terms of business.

But at the same time, he stressed that silver towns must move away from the past where the elderly were basically waiting around to die and watched their colleagues and friends get carried out.

“This is where the young people come in,” Lee said.

“The premises of these nursing homes and silver towns must be open to all so younger people may come in and enjoy the facilities and naturally mingle with the elderly.”

Samsung’s silver town ― Samsung Noble County ― is a good example as the grounds are open to all in the neighborhood.

Other industry watchers said that a growing number of provincial governments were engaging with the idea of building such “silver leisure areas.”

A 2008 government inititive provides state support of up 90 percent of expenses for senior citizens who are judged to be in need of such care.

This means the elderly or their families now have to provide just 10-20 percent of the expenses for the nursing homes. 

Second chances for boomers

How to enjoy their lives is another thing senior citizens in Korea are concerned with, especially as for many, their families and jobs were all they had.

However, for the Korean elderly, a meaningful life is not only about fun and games and relaxing, but also about remaining productive.

“We found that ‘working’ is a key word that describes the life of Baby Boomers,” MetLife Korea Foundation said in a joint study with Seoul National University’s Institute on Aging this March.

“Working and the workplace capture an important place in the lives of both male and female baby boomers, and it is not too much to say that their lives center on their working life and workplace.”

It also said that there is consequently little free time left.

So in many cases, social gatherings make up most of the after-work activities that the boomers may enjoy, the study found.

In order to feel they are still living life to the fullest, the boomers need to feel that they are still engaged in productive activities and contributing to society, industry watchers said.

Training and education to help them hold jobs or get new ones is therefore becoming an another area that is seeing light.

“Well-dying” takes off

“Well-dying,” a term coined by Koreans who have become obsessed with “well-being,” is also what boomers are interested in, a change from the past when death itself was a taboo.

Funeral services have long been a norm for television commercials, but businesses are now taking them to the next level.

“These days, it’s about dying in a good way for both the individual and society,” said Lee of the KSIA.

Some local companies have developed services where they pressurize the ashes after a person is cremated to turn them into pills resembling large marbles.

They are then coated with crystals or even diamonds so that the ashes can be kept in a safe and environmentally friendly way so that families can continue cherishing their deceased loved ones.

“Death of their loved ones, including the elderly, is something that society needs to embrace fully and openly,” said Choi Joon-shik, head of the Korea Death Association.

That seems to be exactly what is happening in Korea.

By Kim Ji-hyun (