The South Korean government is offering $500 a month to “reclusive lonely young people” to help them to reconnect with society and “restore their daily lives.”
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family announced a new measure that aims to provide reclusive youths, ages 9 to 24, up to 650,000 won (approximately $500) per month as a way to encourage them to leave the house and “re-enter society” by returning to school or looking for jobs.
Eligible youths are able to use the funds to pay for their living expenses, school supplies and cultural experiences. According to a ministry spokesperson, the funds, which youths may receive in either goods or cash, will be sent to their parents’ or grandparents’ bank accounts if they are under 18 years old.
The initiative, which is part of Korea’s broader Youth Welfare Support Act, aims to help disadvantaged youths suffering from “hikikomori,” a Japanese term that is used to describe extreme social withdrawal. The phenomenon is also a problem in Japan, where the number of shut-in youths stands at nearly 1.5 million.
According to the ministry’s report, about 3.1% — or around 350,000 — of Koreans aged 19 to 39 are “reclusive lonely young people,” with many coming from poorer families.
The ministry explained that the youths may begin to shut themselves off from society at a young age due to personal trauma, bullying, academic stress, family conflict or a lack of care from their parents or guardians.
“It was hard to leave the house. Even if you muster up the courage to go outside, making eye contact with people was difficult,” an unidentified 17-year-old said in a case study provided by the South Korean family ministry.
Other case studies show students suffering from various issues, including depression, domestic violence and hunger.
“Reclusive youths can have slower physical growth due to irregular living and unbalanced nutrition, and are likely to face mental difficulties such as depression due to loss of social roles and delayed adaptation,” the ministry said, noting the importance of “active support.”
With South Korea expected to become one of the world’s most aged countries by 2044, the government has spent more than $200 billion in efforts to boost the population over the past 16 years.
“This policy is fundamentally a welfare measure,” said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University in Seoul, adding that it is an attempt to address the population crisis. “While it’s good to try various approaches to boost working age population, it cannot be seen as a long-term solution to fix the population problem here.”
As of 2020, South Korea has the lowest rate in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, with its capital, Seoul, logging a birth rate of 0.59. The average number of expected babies per South Korean woman over her reproductive life decreased to 0.78 in 2022 from 0.81 in 2021.