He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. This is an old, well-known western saying which describes a person who is born into a rich family. These days, the silver spoon has become a symbol of the worsening social divide in Korea. This phenomenon is widely talked about in online communities, referred to as “spoon class theory” classifying young Koreans into four groups of “spoons”: golden spoon, silver spoon, bronze spoon, and dirt spoon. Young Koreans born to financially struggling parents identify themselves as “dirt spoons.” These days, “dirt spooners” are voicing their frustration at the barriers they face in terms of job opportunities and social mobility.
Recently, however, some young Koreans have voiced opinions against the use of what they view as self-deprecating phrases that are offensive to their backgrounds. A student of Korea University wrote on the Facebook account on October 16, “I hate the phrase dirt spoon. I am afraid that my parents will find out what it means. … My parents gave me good soil with love and support. … I will be a big tree which parents can depend on, and I want to thank my parents for providing me with such good soil.”
Apart from the spoon class theory, there are numerous negative phrases like “n-Po generation,” which refers to young Koreans giving up their various goals in life such as marriage, having children, and their dreams. “Hell Joseon” is another popular phrase that describes Korea (or Joseon) as a kind of hell to live in. The survey on 350 Hanyangians from the Seoul and ERICA campuses by The Hanyang Journal, reveals the reasons why young Koreans these days are using such provocative terms when describing their lives.
■ Survey Period: From October 31 to November 4
■ Respondents: 200 Hanyangians from Seoul Campus, 150 Hanyangians from ERICA Campus
Q1. Have you ever suffered any disadvantages because of your “spoon class”?
Q2. Do you agree that it is possible to overcome your “spoon class” on your own?
Q3. How much do you think that your parents’ socio-economic status influences your future?
Q4. What do you think is the biggest barrier to overcome the “spoon class system”?
①Education or studying 21.7%
④Investment in future goals 40.6%
Q5. How do you think about the “spoon class theory” which classifies youth according to their parents’ socio-economic status?
①Very positive 3.7%
③Negative (go to 5-1) 53.7%
④Very negative (go to 5-1) 26.3%
Q5-1. Why do you think negatively about the “spoon class theory”?
①It is unjust for people to be discriminated against based on their parents’ financial status. 46.2%
②The terms are used by those who complain about their positions in life without making efforts to overcome them 27.6%
③It is despicable to classify people 24.5%
Q6. What does the “spoon class theory” reveal about Korea?
①It reflects difficulties to overcome the economic divide 68%
②It reflects the psychology people use to justify their difficult situations 23.1%