The Korea Herald


Day laborers, low-income earners fear lonely death

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Dec. 3, 2023 - 14:41

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An aged man is seen climbing stairs at a subway station in Seoul, Nov. 22. (AFP-Yonhap) An aged man is seen climbing stairs at a subway station in Seoul, Nov. 22. (AFP-Yonhap)

Day laborers and low-income earners in South Korea feel that they have a high chance of dying alone and remaining unnoticed for days, compared to peers with regular jobs earning higher incomes, a survey showed Sunday.

Those employed and paid daily without a regular job feared they would have an average 41.8 percent chance of suffering a "lonely death," compared to 28.6 percent for those with regular jobs, according to data from a survey by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs released Sunday.

The survey conducted by the state-funded research institution asked 1,000 people aged 19 and above to individually express their thoughts on the possibility of experiencing a lonely death. Participants were asked to rate this possibility on a scale from zero to 100 percent, with 100 percent indicating absolute likelihood.

A similar trend was also observed depending on the level of an individual's income. Those earning monthly wages of less than 2 million won ($1,550) expected they would have a 44.9 percent chance of dying lonely, while those receiving over 6 million won marked 25.8 percent.

In general, South Korean adults assessed having a 32.3 percent chance of dying alone on average. Over 9 percent of respondents in the survey said they feel like they have an over 80 percent chance of experiencing a lonely death.

By age, respondents in their 30s said that they had a 39.5 percent chance of dying alone. On the other hand, individual anticipation of dying alone diminished gradually in older age groups, with those in their 60s predicting a 29.8 percent chance of dying alone. Those in their 20s expected they had a 29.5 percent possibility of a lonely death.

The Health Ministry estimated that 3,378 people suffered a lonely death in 2021, accounting for 1 percent of the total number of deaths in the same year. The number of lonely deaths rose by an average of 8 percent over five years to 2021.

According to the survey results, 58.3 percent of people responded that those living with their family can still experience a lonely death.

Korea laid out a five-year blueprint in May aimed at reducing the ratio of lonely deaths to total deaths by 20 percent.

About 1.52 million people, or 3 percent of Korea's total population, are at risk of suffering a lonely death, according to the Health Ministry's projection. The projection was based on the survey of 9,471 respondents in late 2022 about social participation, meal frequency and the provision of personal assistance services.

The survey results also showed that over 80 percent of respondents think the increase in lonely deaths should be addressed as a social problem.