October 28, 2021

‘Squid Game,’ the Netflix Hit, Taps South Korean Fears

South Korea boomed in the postwar era, making it one of the richest countries in Asia and leading some economists to call its rise the “miracle on the Han River.” But wealth disparity has worsened as the economy has matured.

“South Koreans used to have a collective community spirit,” said Yun Suk-jin, a drama critic and professor of modern literature at Chungnam National University. But the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s undermined the nation’s positive growth story and “made everyone fight for themselves.”

The country now ranks No. 11 using the Gini coefficient, one measure of income inequality, among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the research group for the world’s richest nations. (The United States is No. 6.)

As South Korean families have tried to keep up, household debt has mounted, prompting some economists to warn that the debt could hold back the economy. Home prices have surged to the point where housing affordability has become a hot-button political topic. Prices in Seoul have soared by over 50 percent during the tenure of the country’s president, Moon Jae-in, and led to a political scandal.

“Squid Game” lays bare the irony between the social pressure to succeed in South Korea and the difficulty of doing just that, said Shin Yeeun, who graduated from college in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Now 27, she said she had spent over a year looking for steady work.

“It’s really difficult for people in their 20s to find a full-time job these days,” she said.

South Korea has also suffered a sharp drop in births, generated partly by a sense among young people that raising children is too expensive.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/06/business/economy/squid-game-netflix-inequality.html

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