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Elderly Koreans weary of caring for grandchildren: study

Elderly South Koreans with adult working children are weary of caring for their young grandchildren, while 53 percent of all Korean households with working mothers are primarily relying on their own parents for child care, a study showed Thursday.

The study by the Korean Women’s Development Institute surveyed a total of 500 grandparents who care for their grandchildren and 100 working parents who rely on their children’s grandparents for child care.

The research found that 59.4 percent of the grandparents found child care physically demanding and exhausting, while 41 percent of them said they had to give up their social life to care for their grandchildren. Also, 73.8 percent said they would like to stop caring for their grandchildren if they were given the option to do so.

The surveyed grandparents were on average caring for their grandchildren 6.69 hours daily. Those who cared for children aged 3 or under, in particular, were on average spending 10.57 hours a day. According to most, or 99.2 percent of all surveyed grandparents, the care included bathing, changing diapers, feeding and picking up the infants or children at the day care, among other tasks. 

“We also found out that many of the grandparents are also cleaning the house and cooking while caring for children at the same time,” researchers said in the report. “We suggest expansion of government-certified nannies or domestic workers to ease their workload.”

The proportion of double-income households increased in South Korea from 27.9 percent in 2010 to 31.2 percent in 2014, according to the latest report released by the Gender Ministry. 

The government report also showed that most Koreans rely on family members in the event that they suddenly need someone to care for their children such as in the case of an emergency or when they are ill or abruptly called in to work.

While 79.8 percent of parents said they get help from their family, 15.5 percent said they have absolutely no child care options available in such situations. Notably, only 0.5 percent of parents said they use the babysitting services provided by the Gender Ministry.

The KWDI report found that 45.4 percent of the surveyed parents said they chose to rely on their parents because they feel the safest when they leave their children with them. Also, 19.5 percent said they utilize the government’s child care services, but they need their parents to take care of the infants once the service hours are over, as their work ends late at night. In addition, another 11.4 percent said their children are too young to be left with a stranger.
Participants listen to tips on taking care of babies during a class arranged by the Busan office of Korea Population, Health and Welfare Association for grandparents taking care of their grandchildren. (Yonhap)
Participants listen to tips on taking care of babies during a class arranged by the Busan office of Korea Population, Health and Welfare Association for grandparents taking care of their grandchildren. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, 67 percent of the grandparents said they offered to help because they wanted to support their grown-up children’s career. At the same time, 42.8 percent said they decided to help as they didn’t find any child care services reliable enough for their grandchildren.

When asked about what the government should do to support double-income households, 44 percent of the grandparents said parental leave, variable work schedules and leaving as soon as their shift is up should be guaranteed. Also, 35.6 percent said there should be more child care programs provided by the government.

The KWDI pointed out that a growing number of Korean double-income couples are relying on their parents for child care for at least four hours daily as most government programs, such as public day care centers, end the regular program at 4 p.m. The think tank suggested offering financial allowances for grandparents who care for their grandchildren ranging from 300,000 won ($250) to 500,000 won monthly, depending on the child’s age. It also suggested providing child care education for grandparents and government-certified nannies to assist them when in need. 

While 61.6 percent of the surveyed grandparents agreed with the idea of reinforcing government policies to encourage more grandparents to care for their grandchildren, 86.9 percent of the surveyed parents have done the same. The 38.4 percent of the grandparents who disagreed with the idea said the policies may put their health at risk and isolate the elderly population from their social lives.

South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates among developed nations, currently 1.21 children per woman. Poor work and life balance of married couples, as well as the nation’s increasing number of young Koreans who prioritize education and career over forming a family, have been reported as major causes.

By Claire Lee (