What the “sixth round” reveals about the social situation in South Korea today

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Union rally in Seoul, with participants wearing masks inspired by the “Round 6” series| Photo: EFE/EPA/JEON HEON-KYUN

Netflix’s biggest ratings of late, series “Round 6” features a diverse cast of indebted people who take risks in a violent survival game in South Korea that is a millionaire prize hoping to change their lives.

While it’s clearly a generous dose of exaggeration, the series has led many people to look at the world’s tenth economy (according to the International Monetary Fund) to see if the characters’ desperation reflects something of the social reality of the country today.

After all, Parasite (2019), the first unreleased English-language production to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, filmed a grim South Korea where social inequalities can lead to extremism.

Figures from CEIC Data, a specialist in economic statistics, indicate that indebtedness is already an issue of increasing concern to South Koreans. At the end of last year, household debt represented 106.6% of the country’s nominal GDP – ten years ago, the indicator was less than 80%.

The level of household indebtedness in South Korea is the highest in Asia and one of the highest in the world: for comparison purposes, the level in Japan was 65.2% of GDP and in the United States, at 69.5% (US data is from March 2021), according to CEIC data.

The Financial Times reported in August that the proliferation of digital lenders and fintech firms in South Korea, in which high-risk borrowers often do not have access to bank financing, is being heavily influenced by the proliferation of digital lenders and fintech in South Korea, a trend encouraged by the government of South Korea. country.

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However, with household debt accelerating, Seoul responded by tightening lending rules: In July, the maximum statutory interest rate that private lenders could charge their clients for was lowered from 24% to 20%.

The country has the highest rate of older people living in poverty in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

South Korea’s elderly poverty rate is the highest among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to the latest comparative data.

In 2018, South Korea’s index was 43.4%, followed by Latvia (39%), Estonia (37.6%) and Mexico (26.6%). With an aging population and declining fertility rates (0.9 births per woman in 2019, according to the World Bank, half the East Asia and Pacific average), the potential is a significant increase in government spending on social security in the coming decades.

In an article published in September on the academic website The Conversation, Sarah Sun, professor of Korean studies at the University of Sheffield in England, noted that even after decades of economic development that turned South Korea into a global power, inequality is the subject of a “parasite” after challenge, which has grown In recent years: The richest 20% of South Korea’s population has a net wealth 166 times greater than the poorest 20%, a disparity that has halved since 2017.

Son noted that the Gini index, which measures the distribution of national wealth, puts South Korea at roughly the same level as the United Kingdom and above the United States, but cautioned that rising youth unemployment, rising property prices and the pandemic reversed the “modest decline” in inequality seen in Last few years “.

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“This is not unique to South Korea, of course. The Sixth Round’s characters, their problems, and their humanity resonate in the experiences of communities around the world. Economies similar to South Korea’s are facing many of the same challenges, which have been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic,” Son noted.

“The final episode hints at the possibility of a second season of the show, but even if it doesn’t continue, ‘Round Six’ makes it clear that the bigger story it represents isn’t over yet.”

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About the Author: Camelia Kirk

"Friendly zombie guru. Avid pop culture scholar. Freelance travel geek. Wannabe troublemaker. Coffee specialist."

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