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Korea ranks 29th on OECD’s well-being index

Nov 22,2017
Korea ranked 29th out of 38 countries on this year’s OECD Better Life Index, which is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s measure of well-being, signaling a steady decline from 28th place last year and 27th the year before that.

The index assesses housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance. Korea performed well with regard to housing, jobs, education and civic engagement.

Korea’s housing affordability ranked the highest among OECD member states, though both the average number of rooms per person and access to basic sanitation, such as an indoor flushing toilet, were below the OECD average. Korea also saw an increase in income and wealth, with household net adjusted disposable income now 23 percent higher than in 2005.

It also ranked 13th in education, with 87 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 completing upper secondary education, higher than the OECD average of 74 percent. According to the OECD, “Korea is the top-performing OECD country in reading literacy, maths and sciences with the average student scoring 519 [on the Programme for International Student Assessment], above the OECD average of 486.”

In terms of civic engagement, the OECD saw a decrease in voter turnout in member states from 2005 to 2017, whereas Korea experienced a turnout of 77 percent in 2017, a 14 percent increase from 10 years ago.

But Korea performed poorly in terms of community, environment, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance.

Korea ranked last in terms of community, echoing government studies that show 749 people died alone in 2012 and 1,226 died alone last year. A month ago, a 40-year-old man was found dead in a Busan apartment complex a week after his death, while a 60-year-old man was found 10 days after his death in Chungju, North Chungcheong. Police investigations confirmed that both were without close family or friends, and were living in social isolation. To address the issue, the Neighborhood Regeneration Plan was introduced in 2013.

According to the OECD, the cities of Jeonju and Changwon were selected as initial testing sites for the plan, which has elicited positive reactions from residents and local governments of both places.

For the OECD community index, respondents were asked, “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on?” Among people over the age of 50, 61 percent of Koreans said they did, the lowest of all, compared to the OECD average of 76 percent.

Korea also ranked third from last in terms of environment. Its fine-dust pollution is often higher than the World Health Organization’s guideline limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, and on March 20, Seoul had the second-worst air quality in the world after New Delhi.

Concerning health, life expectancy at birth in Korea is now 82 years, two years above the OECD average, though the percentage of Koreans rating their health as “very good” and “good” has fallen 11 percent since 2005. The OECD cautions, however, that “the assessment can be affected by factors such as cultural background.”

Under life satisfaction, Korea ranked 30th, just below Japan. When asked to rate their general life satisfaction on a scale from 0 to 10, the average score Koreans gave was 5.9, lower than the OECD average of 6.5. The index also measures gender and social inequality as indicators of life satisfaction and gave Korea’s gender inequality a chilling 38 out of 38.

Finally, though the nation saw a 40 percent decrease in the number of deaths due to assault within the decade, the percentage of people who report that they feel safe walking alone at night was below the OECD average of 69 percent, placing Korea at 26th under safety.

BY LAURA SONG, KIM KI-CHAN [song.hankyul@joongang.co.kr]