South Korea’s explosive development in the past 50 years has left a huge generational gap, like an unsightly stretch mark on the country’s bloated economic belly. The latest maturing generation known as the Millennials (born 1980s~2000s), have experienced a completely different country from the preceding generation. What makes the new generation so different? What do Korean youth enjoy? While over-simplification is unavoidable when defining the most common traits of a whole generation, these are 10 of the most common qualities of the average Millennial (those in their teens to 30s) in Korea.
It is becoming more common for Millennials to delay adulthood by choosing to live with parents or stay in the education or job-hunting stage. These deferrals of adult rites of passage is now so common that it has been labelled the kangaroo family trend (‘캥거루족’), as more children are staying in their parent’s “pouches” for money. This current generation is less likely to marry or have children before the age of 30, due to Korea’s skyrocketing housing prices and lack of jobs. High unemployment rate and low birth rate spells trouble for the future.
In comparison to the previous reserved generation, Millenials are happy to capture and broadcast everything, from what they have eaten to how they feel. This can be seen as a sign of growing self-confidence, and breaking away from commonly being discreet and anonymous. It is now custom to be open and share personal information to anyone online. On the contrary, this can be viewed as narcissism. Selcas are taken constantly, and sometimes private lives are broadcast deliberately for fame.
It is not a big surprise that Millennials would have consumer habits, as the previous generation worked hard to create a consumerist paradise. Earning and spending money is a big part of life in Korea, and who can blame them? The average person is exposed to constant advertising, ad jingles are catchier than nursery rhymes, and a huge budget is dedicated on promotion. The race to stay relevant keeps the Millennials busy. Millennials must buy new clothes to keep up with fashion, new gadgets to keep up with technology, not to mention delicious food for a healthy social life.
Reliance On Technology
South Korea’s tech industry is one of the most advanced in the world, and the internet is super speedy, which has created a tech savvy nation. Much like the rest of the world, every pocket of time is spent online or on apps. It is almost impossible for Millennials to function in their daily lives without connection to the internet or a device. Koreans in their teens have been born and bred on gadgets, and now kids can unlock smartphones before they can even talk.
Exposure to Korea’s consumerist online connected culture has left young people hyper sensitive to what is hot and what is not. Trends spread like wildfire and owning certain brands has become a part of identity building. Most Millennials eagerly follow trends and engage in mainstream popular culture. The consumption of media and celebrity idolisation build new trends constantly.
Well Educated And Multi-Skilled
Education has always been important for social mobility and financial security, but it is the Korean Millennials which have gone through the intense education system of rigorous exams, academies and after school classes. 82% have graduated from university, meaning that the majority are well-read, smart and very good at standardized tests. Young Koreans must pick up new skills such as languages and music in order to compete for jobs.
Traditional attitudes towards race, sexuality and gender roles also seem to be changing slowly. While many remain conservative, Korean teens and twenty-somethings are more accepting towards feminism, LGBT issues, body modification (piercings, tattoos and plastic surgery) than previous generations. The desire to break away from conservative tradition seems to be synonymous with modernising, and a little more effort is being made to be more politically correct.
Seeking A Better Life
When South Korea was still a developing third world country, the previous generations could not afford the luxury of choice during those desperate times. Citizens tolerated harsh working conditions and other societal flaws, but now people voice their dissatisfaction and have become less lenient. This has spiked an increase in a desire to leave the country. Those who are ambitious and are unwilling to conform end up leaving the country. Millennials are world travellers and more adaptable than their parents.
Scandals and disasters have exposed corruption of authority, creating a young generation sceptical of those in privileged and high positions. Millennials come together to call for change. Young people are more aware of privilege and sensitive towards injustice and inequality. While hierarchy is still important in Korean society, the underdogs are gathering their voices and doing what they can to stand up and fight.
Open and Social
In the past, people socialised in very small circles that were nigh impenetrable to an outsider. Now people are more willing to connect with strangers and branch out from just family and school friends. Friendship is no longer enclosed, and now many services facilitate the making of new friends. While the importance of family is still integral in Korean culture, Millennial relationships are broadening.
The attitudes and opinions of a generation are reactions to the environment and the previous generation. The rapid development of Korean economy and technology has left behind the weak, and now only the fit and strong have adapted to this new society. The future of Korea lies in the hands of the Millennial generation and undoubtedly the generation after will be very different too. No one knows what the future holds, which is what makes it an exciting time for Korea.
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