Squid Game depicts Korean debt crisis contributing to suicides

Squid Game depicts Korean debt crisis contributing to suicides

“Economic hardship” is the main reason why South Koreans consider suicide.

Squid Game, Netflix’s nine-episode original TV show, has become a cultural phenomenon and broke the streaming service record for the greatest audience.

The show follows a deeply indebted South Korean man who competes against more than 450 equally indebted people for a chance to win a prize totaling more than $38 million.

But the game has a twist – spoilers for the first two episodes of the series here – contestants who lose, die, and there’s only one eventual winner. Even after learning this, the majority of the remaining contestants continue to play despite the deadly stakes and low odds of winning the prize money.

Many viewers and critics of the fictional series praised her for accurately portraying the despair of many South Koreans suffering economic hardship in the country’s debt crisis.

One based in New York organization made up of Koreans in the diaspora pointed to statistics claiming that debt is the leading cause of suicide in South Korea.


Are economic problems such as debt the main cause of suicide in South Korea?



Yes, the Korean government has found that “economic hardship” is the main reason for suicidal thoughts among South Koreans surveyed.


With 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people, South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of 38 countries that includes some of the largest economies in the world. , according to data from the organization.

The OECD includes much of Western Europe, the United States and Canada, Australia and Japan, among other countries.

The Korean government found that suicide was the fifth leading cause of death in 2019. Suicide rates are not high only among younger populations, either, the suicide rate for its population aged 65 and over is still higher than the country as a whole at 41.7 per 100,000 people.

Through a biannual survey, the South Korean government found that the number one reason people consider suicide is “economic hardship.” Respondents identified the economy as the reason for suicidal thoughts about twice as often as the second most common answer, “physical or mental illness or disability”. About half of respondents aged 40 to 59 said economic hardship was the reason they considered suicide.

Household indebtedness is one of the main factors contributing to these economic difficulties. According to a September 2021 report by the Bank of Korea, total household debt in South Korea now represents 105% of the country’s GDP. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in the country, essentially measuring the economic output of the country. This means that the country’s private debt is larger than its economy.

For comparison, the Federal Reserve says that household debt in the United States is currently 78% of the country’s GDP and reached 99.8% of GDP at the height of the Great Recession.

The OECD reports that South Korea’s ratio of household debt to disposable income is 191%, the seventh highest ratio among its member countries. Disposable income is a measure of after-tax income. The ratio of household debt to disposable income in the United States is almost half that of South Korea at 105%.

So the desperation seen in the characters of Squid Game hits close to home for many in South Korea. Even the decisions the characters make to continue the game — putting themselves in an “escape debt or die” situation — reflect real struggles in South Korea.

If someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide or you are considering suicide, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or see another suicide prevention resource.

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Robert P. Matthews