The Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare reported a staggering 3,378 “lonely deaths” occurred in the country in 2021.
Lonely deaths, or “godoksa” in Korean, have received increased attention in the country over the last decade. The phenomenon refers to people who live alone and pass away at home with their deaths going unnoticed, sometimes for weeks and even months, because of their isolation from family members and friends.
According to the report, the demographic most impacted were people in their 50s and 60s, who comprised 60 percent of reported lonely deaths. All adult age groups were impacted, however, including younger people in their 20s and 30s, which accounted for between 6-8 percent of lonely deaths in the country.
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Another element noted in godoksa deaths was gender. In the 2021 report by the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, men were found to be 5.3 times more likely to die a lonely death than women. The disparity of deaths between the genders is growing, as men were only four times as likely to suffer lonely deaths as women in 2019.
Additionally, socioeconomic factors were often at play in lonely deaths. A 2019 report from nonprofit organization the Seoul Welfare Foundation showed that 52 percent of godoksa in the city occurred in “low rise or rental apartments.” The same report showed that 95 percent of people who died lonely deaths were unemployed. A similar phenomenon known as “kodokushi,” or “dying alone,” has received attention in Japan. Government officials there also attribute the rise in lonely deaths to an aging population and increasing social isolation of elders. In Hong Kong, where increasing numbers of elders face isolation, lonely deaths are also expected to rise. Some believe that technology can help alleviate the number of isolated deaths. One solution being deployed in Korea is a “smart plug device” that can detect if electricity is not used over a period of time, or if the lighting in a room stays consistent for an unusual amount of time. The government is also exploring ways to employ AI technology in a similar fashion.