Send to

1 in 650 Korean seniors pick up cardboard: data

July 10, 2024 - 14:43 By Shin Ji-hye

A senior citizen drags a handcart full of cardboard through the streets of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Older local residents pushing carts laden with discarded cardboard on the street have become a poignant symbol of South Korea’s elderly poverty crisis. These individuals roam the streets collecting cardboard boxes to sell to recycling centers.

According to the Ministry of Welfare on Wednesday, at least 1 out of every 650 South Koreans aged 65 or older engage in the activity to make a living. Between February and May this year, there were 14,831 such individuals.

Their average monthly income, encompassing state livelihood subsidies and pension, stood at 766,000 won ($553). However, it was not disclosed how much of this income comes specifically from cardboard scavenging. Their average age was 78.1 years old.

These are the findings of the ministry’s first nationwide survey on cardboard collectors in the country, compiling and analyzing data from the country’s 229 local administrative entities, including city or county governments.

By region, Seoul had the largest number of older people collecting discarded paper boxes, at 2,530, followed by Gyeonggi Province with 2,511, South Gyeongsang Province with 1,540 and Busan with 1,280.

Regarding their total personal wealth, those with assets of less than 25 million won comprised the largest group, making up 25.2 percent. This was followed by those with assets from 50 million won up to 100 million won at 19.9 percent, and those with assets between 100 million and 150 million won at 13.7 percent.

The largest age group was those 80-84 years old, who were 28.2 percent, followed by the 75-79 age group at 25.2 percent and 70-74 at 17.6 percent.

Poverty plaguing the senior population is a chilling problem in South Korea, even as the country boasts the world’s 13th-largest economy and a per-capita income of $33,745, which ranks No. 22 globally.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the nation’s elderly poverty ratio – the proportion with less than half of the median income – stood at 40.4 percent in 2020. The figure was the highest among the 37 OECD members it researched and 2.8 times as higher than the 14.4 percent that is the average for the G5 advanced economies of the US, Japan, the UK, France and Germany.