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[Newsmaker] Wealth gap widening among young Koreans: data

Lawmaker says people have different ‘starting lines’ in life according to parents’ wealth

View of the posh Gangnam-gu and Songpa-gu from Namsan, Seoul. (Yonhap)
View of the posh Gangnam-gu and Songpa-gu from Namsan, Seoul. (Yonhap)
The wealth gap among young Koreans has widened, with data showing that familial transfer of wealth, not income differences, are aggregating the divide, a lawmaker said Monday.

According to Statistics Korea data of two groups of Koreans between ages 20 to 30, the upper 20 percent of young Koreans accumulated 35 times more wealth than the lower 20 percent last year.

The wealth gap increased from 776 million won ($650,000) in 2019 to 846 million won in 2020, according to Kim Hoe-jae, a member of the country’s ruling Democratic Party who analyzed the data.

The total value of property and assets owned by the young and wealthy surged by 8.8 percent to 874 million won while the lower class only saw a 2.6 percent increase to 25 million won in the cited period.

Compared to Koreans in their 30s, those in their 20s exhibited a larger wealth gap of 320 million won and a lower income gap of 31 million won.

Kim pointed out that although the level of income disparity is not severe among the young Koreans, the data shows the divide is widening between those who have received parents’ financial support and those who have not.

“The data indirectly shows that the wealth gap among Koreans in their 20s is widening not because of differences in income level but because of transfer of wealth,” he said.

”It is time to break the chain of an unfair lifecycle where the youth stand in different starting line according to their parents’ wealth ... We should come up with measures that can resolve the social polarization,” Kim said.

The data comes as a scandal involving a politician and his son over alleged preferential treatment has intensified.

Former lawmaker Kwak Sang-do’s son has been facing public outcry over receiving a massive severance package worth 5 billion won from Hwacheon Daeyu, an asset company responsible for developing real estate in Gyeonggi Province, allegedly in exchange for his father‘s political influence.

“Ordinary people, even though they die or become disabled due to occupational injuries, can’t dream of receiving 5 billion won as severance,” a person working at a tourist agency wrote on Blind, an anonymous social media platform.

“I feel self-loathing for not being born into such rich family. I haven’t noticed how corrupt the society is until now,” another person commented.

Kwak’s son, who said he was referred to the company by his father, has worked for approximately six years as an assistant manager in the compensation division.

Suspicion rose as Kwak’s son had received the equivalent of roughly 200 times more from the 21 to 22 million won he would have been legally entitled to in severance pay, according to industry sources.

Meanwhile, the National Tax Service, South Korea’s tax agency, has recently launched a probe into 446 people in their early 30s or younger who are suspected to be involved in tax evasion by acquiring houses, buildings and stocks from their parents.

By Byun Hye-jin (
Korea Herald Youtube