By Yoon Ja-young
Free time is not a waste of time. Economists have pointed out that constructive use of it helps boost domestic consumption, on top of enhancing the productivity of workers.
With export-led economic growth showing limitations, the government is encouraging leisure pursuits to enhance the growth vitality of the economy from the long-term perspective ― it wants to create consumption through leisure.
However, Koreans are not enjoying their time off, both quantitatively and qualitatively, limiting its positive effect on the domestic economy, according to a report by the LG Economic Research Institute.
The report points out that Koreans on average have around 4.5 hours of spare time every day, around 10 percent less than the average five hours of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.
Koreans have limited time for leisure as they spend too much time working and studying. Koreans work 2,090 hours a year, 314 hours longer than the OECD average.
They are provided around 10 days of paid vacation, of which they end up using only seven days, on average. "It is maybe due to the inflexible culture at work, in which one often has to delay or cancel vacations for work. When they do leave for vacation, they are often rendered irresponsible," said Ko Ga-young, a researcher at the institute in the report.
Long commute hours are also eating into spare time. Koreans spend 58 minutes commuting to and from work or school on average, which is the longest among the OECD member countries in the survey.
Ko points out that long work hours not only decrease spare time but also make a person tired both physically and mentally. They end up spending most of their spare time resting.
Koreans thus spend most of the spare time watching TV, dedicating around two hours every day. Taking a nap was the second-most popular leisure following TV. Inactive leisure, including these two, takes up 65.2 percent of spare time.
Consequently they are spending a small amount of money on leisure activities. It only costs 197 won to watch TV, 600 won to use Internet, which is also a popular way of spending spare time in Korea, and 3,136 won to play games.
Koreans are especially limited in watching culture and art performances or sports games. They spent on average 1.5 hours a month on these activities, far less than the OECD average of five hours. These are among the leisure activities Koreans want, though.
"The huge burden of education and housing costs leaves Koreans with little room for spending on leisure. You can see that Koreans spend a lot on education and housing while very little on culture and leisure compared with people in the OECD countries," Ko said.
The researcher urged that the government should pay more interest to leisure as expanding domestic consumption for securing growth potential is crucial. Shorter working hours and reduced spending on education are necessary on top of increasing infrastructure for leisure activities.
"There should be change in how leisure is regarded. Leisure was rendered as waste of time while ‘diligence and hard work' were considered as the only way forward for economic development. But now leisure is also an important growth factor. It not only expands domestic demand but also enhances creativity, making a growth engine for the future," she said.