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Aging and the Skewing of Democracies: “As Populations Decrease, the Youth are Underrepresented”

Seoul Youth Hub Conference

“Democracy in Aging Societies” forum on the 10th
“Half of all voters will be over the age of 50 by 2020”
Proactive measures for young people necessary, such as

future generation impact assessment on legislation

[Photo caption] An East Asia Forum (Democracy in Aging Societies) took place this past December 10 at the first-floor Multipurpose Hall of the Seoul Youth Hub building located at Eunpyeong-gu(恩平區), Seoul. From left to right, Professor Eunice Kim(Eunice ) of Ewha Womans University, Professor Sung-In Jun(全聖寅) of Hongik University, Professor Kyungmook Kim (金敬) of Waseda University in Japan, Professor Haejoang Cho(趙惠貞) of Yonsei University, Professor Hyunchool Lee (李鉉出) of Dankook University, Director Won-Jae Lee of Yeosijae, and Professor Grace Kuo of National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.

“We have a one person, one vote principle in a democracy. The young generation [due to their small population] are at a disadvantage.” (Professor Eunice Kim of Ewha Womans University Law School)

“Legislation should require a future generations impact assessment.”(Professor Hyunchool Lee of Dankook University (Political Science))

This past December 10, a forum on “Democracy in Aging Societies” was held in the Multipurpose Hall on the first floor of the Seoul Youth Hub building located in Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul, with scholars, youth groups, and the press from Korea, Taiwan, and Japan in attendance. This forum was part of the program for the joint Seoul and Seoul Youth Hub (a research institute for youth policy) joint conference “Reshaping the Way We Live, Season 3,” which ran from December 8 to December 10.

The participants of the forum shared the perception that aging presented a challenge for democracies. Professor Sung-In Jun of Hongik (Economics) argued as follows: “As aging progresses, senior citizens past the age of retirement are becoming increasingly dominant in the democratic decision making process. The people who lead democracies are being split into ‘old and young,’ ‘clay spoons and gold spoons.’” As the electorate becomes fragmented in ways they were not in the past, their power to drive social change may also diminish. Professor Jun went on to say with concern, “Around 2020 voters over 50 will comprise over half the electorate of Korea. The next Presidential election will be the last one where the votes of the different generations are somewhat balanced; afterward, the young generation will find it more difficult to make a show of strength.” According to the National Election Commission’s analysis of the electorate at the time of the general election held on April 13 of this year, 43.3% were 50 years of age or older while eligible voters in their 20s and 30s (including 19-year-olds) accounted for 35.5%.

Professor Grace Kuo of Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University (Law) pointed out that intergenerational conflicts were seen throughout Taiwanese society as well, and introduced the controversy surrounding marriage equality (the legalization of same-sex marriages) as a leading example. According to a survey on social changes in Taiwan, 65% of Taiwanese under 40 supported the legalization of same-sex marriage while 50% of those over 40 were against it. Said Kuo, “Taiwanese youth do not want politicians in their 50s and 60s to decide their marriage rights, while the elder generations oppose the damage to traditional values from recognizing same-sex unions. This is not simply about same-sex marriage, but a dispute between the generations.”

There was a suggestion that more “proactive measures” were needed to represent the increasingly underrepresented youth. Professor Hyunchool Lee said, “In other countries there are calls to give pregnant women 1.5 votes or to implement generational electoral districts. There are only three Assembly people in their 20s and 30s in the current 20th National Assembly. 50% of proportional representative seats should be allotted to the youth as representatives of future generations. Professor Lee went on to say, “The system of almost every democracy, including Korea, only reflects the interests of the current generations and the majority while ignoring future generations. We should establish a Future Generations Committee in the National Assembly and institutionalize impact assessment on future generations of budgets and legislation.”

Haejoang Cho, Professor Emeritus of Yonsei University, suggested: “The current youth generation has experienced intense discouragement from the competition for schooling and jobs, and experience tremendous fear of failure. They need a social safety net so they attempt and say what they want, and to this end guaranteed basic income is crucial.”

Reporter: Yeon Hwangbo (Yeon 皇甫) whynot@hani.co.kr