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Seoul’s Future Generation Report

Miree ByunㆍMinjin ParkㆍJinah Kim



Generational problems in Seoul emerged with demographic, social, and economic problems.


Why do we need to examine the future generation?

Seoul, the national capital of Korea, has been experiencing unprecedentedly rapid, unpredictable changes in demographics, society, and economy. Population aging and low fertility are no longer potential threats but an unavoidable reality. In the midst of such turbulence, generational conflicts arose. In future, when Korea enters a super-aged society, who will support the older generation? Is our future generation, our children and the youth, willing to support their parent and grandparent generations despite growing uncertainties? As the city’s vigour weakens, the distribution of the society’s limited resources has become a contentious issue. In the process, it is inevitable that generational conflict and discord is revealed through political and social systems. In the face of growing uncertainties about the future of Seoul, it is extremely important to examine our future generation in an effort to broaden our understanding on potential policy demand. A rapid transition to the aged society with limited resources will require unrivalled efforts to harmonize different interests between generations. To respond better to social changes, we need to envisage where our future generation is standing both in subjective and objective perspectives.

There are mixed discourses about research on generation and sociocultural theories on generation

Today’s research on generation has been conducted through general discourses and sociocultural theories including Karl Mannheim’s. There are two different opinions about generation: one is that homogeneity and heterogeneity of generations are a social phenomenon, which will replace class conflict. Second, a generation is a phenomenon where an original culture is established based on a population cohort a culture of a generation is flexible and variable. Generational problems emerged as we witnessed a distinct generation gap in preferences for candidates in the recent presidential election. Some experts provide that generational differences now lie at the heart of political dynamics, not class differences. In the meantime, others have focused on the generational gap in technological literacy, different communication methods and cultures by generation.

Significantly, there have been a variety of opinions about the concept of generation and how it was formed. There are different perspectives of research on generations. Some believe that research on generations play an important role in understanding generational differences and laying the groundwork for resolving the conflict. Others criticize that such research blurs the essence of the social conflict. In this study, we contend that it is important to grasp political and social aspects of generational differences and find that the future generation of Seoul shares the same culture and generational sentiment, as well as the internal heterogeneity.


The future generation accounts for 31.3% of the total population in Seoul and has socioeconomic homogeneity as well as heterogeneity

As the fertility rates have decreased since the 1990s, the child population of Korea has plunged since the 2000s. By 2015, the number of those in their 40s and 50s recorded 16.49 million, accounting for 33.2% of the total population. On the other hand, the number of those in their 20s was 6,413,832 and that of those in their 30s was 7,394,623, accounting for 12.9% and 14.9%, respectively. The future generation aged between 20 and 39 accounted for 27.8% of the total population. Seoul had a similar population structure with the national one. The future generation in Seoul accounted for 31.3% of the city’s population, with 1,403,549 of those in their 20s (14.7%) and 1,591,560 of those in their 30s (16.6%), 3.7% higher than the national number. To look at the marital status of the future generation in Seoul, 98.9% of those aged 20 to 24 and 89.1% of those aged 25 to 29 were unmarried by 2015. For those in their thirties, 56.1% of the people aged 30 to 34 were unmarried. On the other hand, 63.4% of the people aged 35 to 39 were married, almost doubling the number of unmarried people in the same age group (33.7%). In terms of the form of household, a single-person household was most common among the people aged 25 to 29, but a two-person household was common in the other age groups of the future generation.


The future generation in Seoul has optimistic dreams as well as concerns about the current status

We asked the future generation in Seoul to rate how happy they felt and four out of ten responded they were neither happy nor unhappy. About 38.5% said they were happy, and 20.6% provided that they were unhappy. Their subjective level of happiness was not low, but to look closer, the future generation had low satisfaction in their current status. Nevertheless, this generation had “dreams” they wanted to achieve in their lives and they were also optimistic about their future. About 68% of the respondents said they would be able to achieve their dreams in the future. In addition to achieving their dreams, they believed that it would be significant to have good personal connections. This belief can be analysed both from positive and negative perspectives. The future generation also regarded the government’s support as second most important for their dreams, which might reflect our society’s attention to the youth. To be more specific, women rather than men, married people rather than unmarried people, and those with higher education levels and at the age of 35 to 39 tended to expect more support from the public sector.

According to our survey, it transpired that the future generation in Seoul wanted to have more romantic relationships, a spouse, and children than having their own houses and decent jobs. To be sure, there were differences by social class. Moreover, 51.3% of the respondents said they were not sure about what they really want. About 60% of them were confident about their capabilities, but 59% of them had fear of failure as well. Nine out of ten young people (88.5%) responded that they were stressed out. This is noticeable because the number one death cause of Koreans in their 10s to 30s was suicide in 2015.


The most distinctive trait of the future generation regarding their mind and sentiment: hybridity

More than six out of ten young people described themselves as “sympathetic and kind (63.4%)” and “trustworthy and self-disciplined (60.1%).” On the other hand, about half of them said they were “anxious and easily upset (52.3%).” Those who have higher income (more than KRW 6 million per month) and more than five family members tended to described themselves positively (about 70% of such groups). In the meantime, more than half of the young people who have no jobs or those with higher education levels perceived themselves as “critical and contentious.”

Seven out of ten people (69.4%) asserted they can trust their friends and acquaintances. On the other hand, six out of ten people (64.4%) provided that, “If a friend has a negative influence on my study and job-hunting, it would be difficult to maintain the relationship.” About half of the youth (49.8%) believed that “cooperation would bring about a better result.” However, another half (47.7%) said “they preferred being alone to being with other people.”

The future generation in Seoul tended to turn to different aid when they were in trouble. They asked for help from the family members living with them when they had financial problems (51.6%), a health issue (48.8%), housekeeping and childcare difficulties (45.6%), and cases of emergency or disasters (38.4%). On the other hand, when they had psychological and emotional problems, 44.5% of the respondents turned to their friends. On the question of their idea of successful life, 40.7% of the respondents chose “having a happy family,” and 20.1% said “financial success.” This clearly indicates that there is a duality in the dreams of the future generation.


The future generation in Seoul is still under the influence of their family, but has a progressive political orientation

What does family mean to the future generation? On the question whether they share their troubles with their parents, 31.8% said “yes,” but 38.8% said “no.” This result clearly provide that this generation is at the period of transition to independent adulthood. However, it is still impossible to conclude that the future generation has weak family relationships. According to our survey, the future generation was still influenced by their parents in decision-making. About four out of ten (40.9%) said their parents had an influence on their decisions, which is 16.4%p higher than those who said the opposite (24.5%).

We also asked the future generation what might affect important decisions in Korean society. The future generation gave the highest scores on the scale of five to “personal connections from school ties, kinship and hometown (4.15 point)” and “external pressure or personal ties (4.15).” These were followed by “biases and emotions of decision makers (4.07),” “volatile criteria (3.87),” “no consideration of the opinions of those who are influenced by a certain decision (3.57),” and “lack of information (3.35).” To conclude, the future generation in Seoul thinks that external factors such as personal connections and background have a great influence on decision-making in Korean society.

In terms of political orientation, less than half of the future generation (45.5%) regarded themselves as “progressive,” with 4% of those who responded “very progressive” and 41.5% of “rather progressive” combined. Four out of ten young people (39%) provided they were “centrist”, and about two out of ten people (15.5%) said they were “conservative” (rather conservative, 14.1% and very conservative, 1.4%). Compared to the whole citizens’ political orientation, the future generation can be seen to be more progressive in general(ambiguity). According to the 2016 Seoul Survey, 38.2% of the Seoul citizens were progressive, 32.1% were conservative and 29.7%, centrist. On the question of responsibilities of good citizens, the future generation gave the highest score of 4.52 points on the scale of five to “participate in election,” followed by “pay the taxes (4.37),” “observe law and order (4.29),” “keep watch on the government (4.00),” and “try to embrace different opinions (3.96).”



01. What is the Future Generation Survey?

1_Meaning of research on generation

2_Theories on generations

3_Future Generation Survey


02. Demographic and Economic Traits of the Future Generation in Seoul

1_Population cohort-related traits

2_Regional and spatial traits

3_Economic and social traits


03. Happiness and Dreams of the Future Generation in Seoul

1_Happiness of the future generation

2_Dreams of the future generation


04. Mind and Sentiment of the Future Generation in Seoul

1_Characters of the future generation

2_Problem solving methods of the future generation


05. Networks, Participation, and Political Orientation of the Future Generation in Seoul

1_Relationships with the older generation

2_Political participation


06. Closing Remarks