But the fall-off-a-cliff character of what has happened with household savings in South Korea strikes many experts as abnormal and worrisome. It is one of several trends suggesting that South Korea, as it wrestles with post-industrial affluence, is a society under extraordinary stress.
South Koreans work more, sleep less and kill themselves at a higher rate than citizens of any other developed country, according to the OECD. They rank first in time spent online and second to last in spending on recreation, and the per capita birthrate scrapes the bottom of world rankings. By 2050, South Korea will be the most aged society in the world, narrowly edging out Japan, according to the OECD.
At the same time, South Korea ranks first in per capita spending on private education, which includes home tutors, cram sessions and English-language courses at home and abroad.
This data came to light earlier in the month, and was reported in the Chosun Ilbo, Korea Times, and Korea Herald. From the latter:
Korean households had the highest level of saving among the OECD member in 1999. Their saving ratio - saving as a percentage of disposable income - stood at around 25 percent at that time but it dropped to 10.7 percent in 2000, 4.4 percent in 2005 and 2.8 percent last year.
On the contrary, Americans are saving an increasingly large portion of their income. U.S. household savings once dipped to negative 0.4 percent in 2005, which means they spent more than they earned. The ratio came in at 1.8 percent in 2008, and is expected to rise to 5.4 percent in 2009 and 6.5 percent in 2010.