Back To Top

Number of elderly people living alone rises

Demographic shift demands independence from children

South Korea’s elderly demographic is increasingly living alone.

The traditional family model of children supporting parents has broken down and more elderly people are choosing to live on their own rather than depend on their offspring.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s report to Rep. Jeon Hyun-heui of the main opposition Democratic Party, senior citizens aged over 65 years numbered 5.54 million as of 2011, taking up about 11 percent of the total population.

Abuse of the elderly soared: a total of 3,068 cases were reported in 2010, up from 2,312 in 2007. Out of the total, 1,300 cases were physical violence, with 86 percent of them committed by their own children or children-in law.

Solitude was also a big problem. About 1 million people lived alone and two in three elderly couples lived away from their children.

In Seoul, the number of elderly citizens living by themselves was 261,399 last year, more than 129 percent jump from 113,826 in 2000.

Experts and the government have attributed senior citizens’ woes to the changing family structure in society: Extended families of more than two generations are fast being replaced with nuclear families.

More people prefer living with their peers to living with their children.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s analysis of the 2010 Statistics Korea survey results, 30.4 percent of respondents were willing to live at nursing homes and other facilities for elderly citizens when they are old. It outnumbered 21.5 percent wanting to live with their children.

The report also said an increasing number of those on the brink of entering the elderly bracket (aged 55-64) were hoping to live away from their offspring.

Social perception of family structure has changed, too. According to a poll conducted in 2005 on the same theme, 60.7 percent of the respondents said family members were responsible for taking care of their parents, while 29.1 percent said family, government and society should share the responsibility. Last year, the latter outnumbered the former 51 percent to 30.4 percent. About 15 percent said parents should look after themselves.

“It seems that the whole society is undergoing a sea change in perception of family affairs in less than a decade. The government is now required to take an aggressive approach to elderly citizens’ livelihood, welfare and jobs,” a Seoul administration official said.

By Bae Ji-sook (
Korea Herald daum