Most parents want to protect their children from the hardships of the world, and in South Korea that often means continuing to provide them with a home even after they reach adulthood.
“Let’s be honest. How could I let my precious boy have a hard time?” Lee Young-wook, 61, said.
His son, Lee Jeong-kyu, is 31 years old and still lives with his parents in the house he grew up in in Bundang, a suburb of Seoul. Their house is not a mansion, but rather a small apartment, just big enough for the three of them.
Despite the tight space, young Lee has never moved and lived on his own before – and he has no plans to have his own accommodation anytime soon.
He is a member of South Korea’s “kangaroo tribe” – a nickname used to describe single men and women who have not left their parents’ homes, even though they are between the ages of 30 and 40. The name suggests the image of an overgrown marsupial that has not left its mother’s pouch.
According to a recent report by South Korea’s national statistics office, more than 50% of single adults aged 30-40 and 44% of those aged 40-44 still live with their parents.
The report, which was released in late March, caused a stir across the country, fueling the popular stereotype that the kangaroo tribe is made up of South Koreans who have failed to succeed in life. The report noted that 42 percent of children who live with their parents are unemployed, and mainstream media coverage featured images of exhausted elderly parents accompanied by carefree and unemployed adult children.
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Despite recent media attention, however, experts say that unlike in the United States, it has long been common practice for children in South Korea to live with their parents into adulthood.
“The kangaroo tribe phenomenon is hardly a modern phenomenon in South Korea, as the percentages of adults in their 30s and 40s living with their parents in the 1980s and 2010s do not differ much,” Kye Bong- oh, sociology professor at Kookmin. University, says.
Moreover, while the lack of economic independence is often a factor explaining why children do not leave the nest, the truth is that many continue to live at home for various reasons, and the phenomenon of the kangaroo tribe is not not so simple and unique. sided as often depicted in popular culture.
For some adult children, the arrangement makes it easier for them to take care of their aging parents, while saving money for the future. Others, especially single women, cite their parents’ conservative views as a reason not to move.
Song Jung-hyun, 36, and Nang Yoon-jin, 33, for example, have long had the financial resources to live on their own. The two women work as teachers at a public college in Seoul, one of the country’s most sought-after careers. But their parents believe women should only move when they get married.
“My parents think the world is a dangerous place for a woman who lives alone,” Song said.
For many single people, living with their parents can be overwhelming. Song and Nang both said they were happy with the arrangement, however, stressing its practical benefits.
“My mom always cooks breakfast for me and pays for living expenses and utility bills. Not much has changed since I was a student other than the fact that I am working now, ”Nang said. “My mom wants me to save some money for my wedding.”
Song said that living with her parents also saved her time and money, as she didn’t have to worry about doing her own laundry or other household chores. Plus, when she needs advice or wants to discuss important issues, her parents are close at hand.
Far from enjoying the continued generosity of her parents, she says, the situation is mutually beneficial.
“It’s not just me who appreciates this way of life. My parents really appreciate having me with them too, ”she said. “As I get older, my parents find some things very difficult, like using their smartphones and doing online banking. Since we’ve been living together, I help a lot with these. My parents often tell me that they can’t imagine living without me.
The term “kangaroo tribe” entered the popular lexicon in South Korea in the early 2000s, a period of high youth unemployment, during which many young graduates continued to live with their parents because they were couldn’t find a job.
Between 1997 and 1998, the youth unemployment rate fell from 5.7 percent to 12.2 percent, before declining slightly to 8.1 percent in 2000, according to the national statistics office. In 2020, South Korea’s youth unemployment rate was 9%.
But as people put members of the kangaroo tribe down for being socially and financially incompetent, Kye said the stigma started to fade.
“People are now aware that in our time, economic independence is more and more difficult to achieve,” he said.
Lee Chul-hee, professor of economics at Seoul National University, noted that South Korea’s economy has made financial independence and independent living increasingly difficult for the younger generation.
“Housing prices in major cities, including Seoul, have risen sharply since 2000, while the labor market has become very volatile, with an increase in the number of temporary job hires,” Lee said. “These factors all make it much more difficult for people in their 30s and 40s to leave their parents’ homes and be independent.”
Since his son has never had a stable job, Lee Young-wook is convinced that he is making the right choice not to pressure his son to move out.
“My wife and I want to be like a big mountain that our son could always lean on,” he said. “I won’t worry about him at all until he’s at least 35 years old.”