Why Over 25,000 South Koreans Fake their Funerals
Thu, September 29, 2022

Why Over 25,000 South Koreans Fake their Funerals

There were an estimated 793,000 suicide deaths worldwide in 2016, indicating a 10.5% age-standardized suicide rate for every 100,000 population. / Photo by: Freedom Studio via Shutterstock


“To mom and dad, I’m sorry I did wrong,” reads a note written by a sixth-grader in South Korea who jumped from the 11th floor of their apartment in March 2015 after she failed tests in school. This story appeared in the culture and travel website Culture Trip, highlighting suicide statistics in South Korea.

Getting a Fresh Perspective About Life

In the hope of helping people have a fresh perspective about life and fight suicide, a funeral home in Seoul Hyowon Healing Center recently conducted an event called Dying Well program and it was participated in by over 25,000 people in South Korea who simulated their deaths. Those who took part in the activity were retirees and teenagers, who wore shrouds, penned their last testaments, took their funeral portraits, and lay down in a closed coffin for 10 minutes.

One person who participated in the event was Cho Jae-hee, 75. She said via Reuters that the moment people experience or become conscious of their death, they have a “new approach to life.” Another participant was a university student named Choi Jin-kyu, 28. He said that his time inside the coffin made him realize how he often views other people as his competitors but also thought of what’s the use of such thing when one is already dead. The 28-year-old went on to say that instead of entering a highly-competitive job market, he would focus on starting a business.


The participants of the Dying Well program wore shrouds, penned their last testaments, took their funeral portraits, and lay down in a closed coffin for 10 minutes. / Photo by: dolgachov via 123rf


South Korea’s Suicide Rate

The World Health Organization published that there were an estimated 793,000 suicide deaths worldwide in 2016, indicating a 10.5 percent age-standardized suicide rate for every 100,000 population. On the part of South Korea, its suicide rate was 20.2 percent for every 100,000 residents. This percentage is almost double compared to the global average.

This is why Hyowon started to offer their “living funeral” services to help people not just appreciate their lives but also to seek reconciliation and forgiveness with their friends and family. The healing center’s head Jeong Yong-mun shares that he is heartened to see people reconcile during a funeral but is also saddened since people would have to wait such a long time before they make peace. After all, “we don’t have forever,” he added.

Jeong Yong-mun said that in their healing center, they provide such a simulation so that people will reconcile or apologize sooner and they can live the rest of their lives happy. He said that there were people who, before joining the program, would ask themselves whether they can commit suicide. But their decision would be reversed after the activity.

Better Life Index, Well-Being, and Economic Growth

When comparing the quality of life across countries, measuring their feelings may be subjective but is proven a useful complement to objective data. By life satisfaction, it measures how individuals evaluate their life as a whole, according to the intergovernmental economic organization The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This is why they came up with a better life index, which has internationally comparable measures of well-being in a country.

Better life index includes these dimensions of well-being: housing, income, jobs, community or the quality of one’s social support network, health, governance, environment, life satisfaction (level of happiness), work-life balance, and safety.

South Korea is ranked 33 out of 40 countries in the OECD's Better Life Index. In terms of employment, 67 percent of people in South Korea aged 15 to 64 have a paid job, 76 percent being men and 57 percent women. In terms of health, the country’s life expectancy at birth is 82 years old. On average, it would be 85 years for women and 79 years for men.

On a scale of 0 to 10 for average self-evaluation of life satisfaction, South Korea has a 5.9 percent rate. In terms of work-life balance, full-time workers are devoting 61 percent of their day at work, which means they have 14.7 hours for leisure and personal care, which includes sleeping and eating. 

Self-Reported Life Satisfaction

South Korea’s self-reported life satisfaction also changes on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being the worst possible life and 10 as the best possible life. Data was based on scientific online publication Our World in Data:

2011: (6.95)
2012: (6.00)
2014: (5.80)
2015: (5.78)
2017: (5.87)
2018: (5.84)

Relation to Economic Growth

In a separate study titled "Subjective Well-Being, Income, Economic Development and Growth," which was published in the economic research platform NBER, authors discussed that there is a relation between income, subjective well-being, and economic development. They said that as citizens' life satisfaction grows, the country also experiences economic growth or vice versa. A nation with greater GDP per capita has higher life satisfaction as income also plays an important role in influencing one’s well-being.

Our World in Data also shares South Korea’s GDP per capita, which was adjusted for price change over time or inflation and price differences between countries. In 2011, its GDP per capita was at $32,225.00 and increased in 2013 at $33,322.00. Changes in the following years are as follows: $34,538.00 (2014), $35,316.00 (2015), and $36,151.00 (2016). 

The data above indicates the relation between national life satisfaction and national income. Also, it is ideal if the country’s subjective well-being augments the measures of economic prosperity, including the GDP per capita.