Life Begins at 70: Older South Koreans Find New Jobs, Abilities

30 June, 2019

When Kim Chil-doo was young, he says, he wanted to be a model. But he gave up that idea to make money. Now, at age 65, he appears in television advertisements and fashion magazines. With his gray beard and long hair, he is South Korea's first senior model.

Kim told Reuters news service he is happy he started a new job. "Being a model is really fun," he says. "Senior? It's just a label."

Kim is one of many older people in South Korea – the country has the world's fastest growing ageing population. Almost half of the country's older people live in poverty. Some take low-paying jobs to support themselves after retiring. But Kim and some other seniors have shown how older South Koreans can find unusual job opportunities later in life.

Now, an increasing number of South Korean seniors are taking modeling classes, becoming YouTube stars or teaching Korean to K-pop music fans in other countries.

"Elderly customers have become big players"

You Sung-lae is 59. When she was a child, she wanted to be an actress. But instead, she says, she got married and had children.

A South Korean senior model, Kim Chil-doo, practices in Seoul, South Korea, June 12, 2019. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
A South Korean senior model, Kim Chil-doo, practices in Seoul, South Korea, June 12, 2019. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

Now she is training to appear on a catwalk to show clothes. On the day she spoke to Reuters, she was wearing a bright blue jacket, orange high heeled shoes and designer sunglasses.

"Learning modeling feels like reviving my youth," she says.

You is also helping the fashion business by attracting older buyers. A spokesperson for the country's largest department store chain, Lotte, told Reuters that older buyers "have become big players."

While many older people do not have much money, others have bought their homes and built savings. Now, the spokesperson said, those seniors are ready to spend some of their money on themselves.

"Too talented"

Some businesses are also trying to use older people's skills and experiences. For example, Cho Young-min started a company using Skype to connect older instructors in Korea with students around the world. The students are interested in learning Korean, and the instructors are interested in sharing their knowledge.

"They were too talented" just to pass their time away, Cho said.

Lee Kye-won agrees. He is 69 and used to work at a trading company. Lee says many of his friends just go to the mountains every day. But he wanted to do something more. So in 2014, he went to work for Cho.

"Coaching is a difficult job because it requires you to have endless energy, but I'm happy to be of a little help for other people beyond the border," he told Reuters.

"Life begins in your 70s"

Two other seniors have found success on the Internet. Seok Noh-ki is a 66-year-old blacksmith. He advertised his hand plow on YouTube recently. Soon, it became one of the most popular tools in the world for gardeners. Sales of the tool have tripled, and exports have sharply increased. Now Seok hires others to help him operate his business – including some other seniors.

Another man, Ji Byung-soo found success by performing a dance song on a televised singing contest. He is 77. Now he earns enough money to donate to a local support center.

Last month, he danced nonstop at a youth festival in Seoul while young people called his name. "Life begins in your 70s," Ji said. "Let's be happy and have fun."

I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly adapted this Reuters story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

senior - n. older in age

label - n. a word or phrase that describes or identifies something or someone

catwalk - n. the raised structure that models walk along in a fashion show

revive - n. to become strong, healthy, or active again

fashion - n. the business of creating and selling clothes in new styles

blacksmith - n. a person who makes or repairs things made of iron