HomeOlder South Koreans turn to dating apps to relieve their loneliness

Older South Koreans turn to dating apps to relieve their loneliness

JS Oh has struggled with loneliness since her divorce and early retirement as an elementary school teacher in Seoul. But the isolation waned after the 59-year-old met a man four years her senior through Couple.net, a South Korean dating app that helps adult children find partners for their parents.

“When my daughter bought the dating app coupon for me, I was so excited to meet someone close to my age. I met him twice for lunch and everything went well – we talked about different things, it helped me,” said Oh, who lives alone with her two dogs. relieve my unit.

Older South Koreans have paid a heavy price for the distraught state of the country Economic growth and social unrest in recent decades, with the erosion of traditional family structures exacerbated by insufficient government support.

South Korea has long had one of the highest rates of elderly poverty and suicide in the developed world, according to OECD figures. But a combination of state programs, civil society initiatives, and increased public awareness – reflected in the determination of young Koreans to help their parents enjoy the return of a new life – has raised hopes for a better future for the rapidly aging society.

“Even though I live with my adult children, I often feel lonely and have wanted to meet someone for a long time,” said JW Kim, a 56-year-old office worker.

Kim’s son bought her a coupon for a Couple.net service with his first paycheck after getting a job at a state-run company. She has since been on dates with two men.

“The first guy was a bit young and the other guy was a bit cheeky. They weren’t my type but it was fun meeting them,” Kim said. “Thinking of dating someone again makes my heart flutter. You forget about loneliness, wait for an appointment and feel happy, albeit for a short time. ”

Lee Woong-jin, president of dating app provider Sunoo, which runs Couple.net, said, “We get a lot of inquiries from people in big cities like Seoul and Busan and even in the United States, where families are getting nuclear and many old people live alone. We have a 93-year-old client looking for a date.”

South Korea’s birth rate has fallen to 0.84 children per woman and last year, the birth rate has fallen The population has shrunk for the first time. The number of South Koreans over the age of 65 will rise from 8.53 million in 2021 to 17.22 million in 2040, and could account for 43.9 percent of the population by 2050, according to a report by Statistics Korea, a government body.

Experts said rapid urbanization and intense competition for school and university places and well-paid jobs mean that many older South Koreans have been abandoned by their adult children who have had to focus on their children and their jobs.

“The shift from extended families to one-person nuclear families is happening very quickly,” said Kim Jin-soo, professor of social welfare at Yonsei University. “People do not have time physically and psychologically to prepare for this transition, and the changes are exacerbated by the longevity of life and growing inequality.”

The challenges are particularly stark for poor and elderly South Koreans: an estimated 43.4 percent of older people lived in poverty in 2018, the highest rate in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Many are forced to retire in their 50s and receive only the monthly basic pension of 300,000 won ($256). They are expected to incur many of their health care costs.

President Moon Jae-in’s administration raised the state’s basic pension from 200,000 won, while presidential candidates raised ahead of next year’s elections. He vowed to unleash extremist politics to combat worsening inequality.

But academics and volunteers told the Financial Times that focusing on economic problems alone would fail to tackle the loneliness that plagues the lives of poor and comfortable people alike.

“Many elderly people kill themselves due to financial problems, for example due to illness, as they still have to pay a large part of the medical bills themselves,” Kim Jin Soo said. “But another big reason is loneliness.”

“With the country’s economic development, the sense of family unity weakens, which makes the elderly feel lonely and isolated and weakens their will to live. The traditional Confucian model based on the duty of sons in one generation has faded away,” said Chen Kwang Yong, professor of sociology at Chung-Ang University.

Government and civil society groups responded with a range of initiatives, including state-funded community activities, regular phone calls to seniors and improved access to mental health services.

Access to pesticides has also been restricted, as part of a strategy to raise practical barriers to suicide.

“We are seeing a steady downward trend – the suicide rate for elderly people in their 70s was 62.5 per 100,000 in 2015 but has now fallen to 38.8,” said Song Dae-kyu of the Korea Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Kwon Dae-young runs Marcoroho, a social enterprise in rural Gyeongsang province in the southeast of the country that trains and employs elderly women to produce traditional crafts. He said the project started as a way to address their financial problems, but then shifted the focus to alleviating their sense of isolation.

“We found that grandmothers who spent their lives as housewives struggled to establish social communities after the death of their husbands, and were more likely to be alienated and depressed than older men,” Kwon said.

“We don’t just give them something to do – they give them employee status, titles, a sense of belonging, make a profit and connect with their customers.”

For Lee of Sunoo, the “explosive” demand on the Couple.net app illustrates the scale of the loneliness problem, and the determination of many young South Koreans to help solve it.

“In the past, it was usually fathers who would apply for dating services for their adult sons,” he said. “Now the trend has reversed.”