Positive and Negative sides of Aged Based culture in Korea

안녕하세요. 토미입니다.

Today, I will talk about the Positive and Negative sides of Aged-based culture in Korea.

In Korea, asking ages is often the first thing that people do when they get to know each other.

This is because, in Korean culture, younger people have to be more polite and show respect to older people in many ways.

On the other hand, older people also have to take care of younger people.

Of course every culture is unique and good the way they are, but they also have some negative sides.

So, let’s look at the 2 bright sides and 2 negative sides of the seniority culture in Korea.

Bright side 1
Older people have more responsibility and support younger people.

Bright side 2
Korean people show high respect towards elders in general through their languages and attitudes.

So, you can feel the kindness from its culture.

Negative side 1
Older people have more right to say their opinions out loud while the younger one has to follow.

Negative side 2
The younger one has to serve the elders in general.

These are totally based on my opinion living in Korea for ten years.

Let’s see my points in more detail!

그럼 시작할게요!

Pros and Cons of Age-based Culture

Bright side 1: Older person has more responsibility and support younger person.

Let’s look at the beautiful aspects of age-based culture first.

In Korea, a person who is older has more responsibility and takes care of the younger.

So, for example, if you are a college student and know some older students (선배) in your department, here is a good news.

They will often take you out for lunch or a drink, and of course it is on them, the older students.

This is a typical way of Koreans being an older one and taking care of their younger members (후배).

They will pay for your lunch as well as their own meal.

It might sound uneconomical for the older students in their community, but people in Korea are actually happy to treat you.

And it is pretty prevalent in Korean culture.

They treat you like a real brother or sister, and you also call them oppa, eonni, nuna or hyeong just like the way you call your real siblings.

So, the relationship with others can be very close like family in Korea.

Bright side 2: High respect for older people

Second, Korean people treat older people with high respect.

It is because Confucianism strongly influenced Korean culture.
And you can see it from the Korean language.

In Korean, there are 존댓말 honorific language, and 반말 casual language.
You use 존댓말 to your elder people such as your teachers, boss or grandparents.
You use 반말 to your same-age friends or younger ones.

I will give you an example for 존댓말.

You guys know 먹다 is “to eat.”

Did you guys know this word has the level of politeness?
If you look at the table, it becomes like this.

Politenessto eat
Highly polite잡수시다
Very polite식사하시다, 드시다
Poilte / Casual먹다

먹다 can be polite or casual, and the next polite expression is 식사하시다 or 드시다, and highly polite expression can be 잡수시다.

You can say 밥 먹었어요? Did you eat meal? like this.
This is also 존댓말, because it finished with 요.

However, if you use this to elder people, it could be awkward and rude.

In this case, you should upgrade honorific forms by using 식사하시다, 드시다, or 잡수시다.

These meanings are also as same as 먹다 “to eat.”
But, you can show your sincere respect towards your elders.

So, it is more appropriate to say
밥 드셨어요? / 식사하셨어요? / 진지 잡수셨어요?

All of them means “Did you eat a meal?”

Culturally, these expressions are more appropriate and natural to say to elders.

As you can see from the language, it is very clear that Korean people have the culture to sincerely respect elders.

Negative side 1: Older people have more power over decisions than younger one

Now you may feel that the oppa, eonni culture is heartwarming and beautiful as it shows the family-like social relationship of Koreans.

However, if you have lived in Korea as a member of their culture for a long time, you may experience some negative sides of the age-based relationship in Korea.

So, now let’s limelight its downsides.

As I mentioned at the beginning, in the oppa, eonni culture, younger people have to show more respect to older people.

In other words, older people often take initiatives in making decisions, and younger people only can accept and follow them.

Another case is at your workplace, when you are discussing an important thing with your colleague, who is older than you.

You have a good idea, so you share your thoughts with the colleague.

Then, when he or she does not agree on what you say and you still try to persuade him to adopt your proposal, denying their opinion, it will lead to an unfortunate consequence in your relationship.

The colleague will get upset and no matter how great ideas you have, if your senior member does not agree, your opinion will not be accepted.

This is sometimes impeding innovation in some way, compared to Western countries where people exchange opinions much more casually.

In this way, older people take initiatives in conversations and younger people’s opinions could be readily overlooked.

Negative sides: Younger one has to serve elders during the meals

There is another downside about the culture where age is a big deal in social situations.

As I mentioned earlier, when it comes to having a meal together, the older person will pay for your meal, which sounds attractive for the younger one.

However, always becoming the younger one in your community and being treated by your seniors will not be as good as you think it is.

Actually, there are a lot of things you are expected to do while eating, especially when eating Samgyeopsal, grilled pork belly, with a glass of soju at a Korean BBQ restaurant.

First of all, you should be in charge of the grilling for your seniors.

Seniors are busy talking about stories they want to tell you or something which they think will be useful and helpful for you.

So, it is preferable for you to voluntarily prepare the meal so that they can concentrate on talking about what they want and also will feel respected.

Sometimes, they would give out the portions to you to make sure you are eating well, but most of the time, you should be responsible to serve them to show your appreciation.

Secondly, you should keep an eye on the senior’s glass all the time.

In Korea, it is considered rude or not attentive to let others’ glass empty for a while.

So, if you did not keep the senior’s glass filled, they would think that you are there just for the meal and not paying enough attention to the host.

Therefore, carefully observe the speed at which they drink soju up and make sure the glass is immediately filled again.

Moreover, Korea is famous for its drinking culture, and when your senior offers you one more glass of alcohol, it is the manner to just accept and drink it up with gratitude.

Besides that, there are more etiquettes you need to keep in mind when being with your seniors.

It is good to spend some time with your seniors, but the supposed relaxing dinner time could become something nervous and uncomfortable where age matters.


As you learned from these examples above, the oppa, eonni, nuna or hyeong culture affects a lot on how Korean people in different ages communicate with each other.

The concept of social relationship or social hierarchy, which is strongly affected by Confucianism, emerges as their inflexible way of thinking, consciously or unconsciously, having traditionally existed in Korea.

After looking through these positive and negative sides of the culture, what opinion do you have?

Whether you like it or not, it is interesting to get to know several aspects of one culture.

If you are interested, I recommend that you visit Korea or watch Korean dramas to find more interesting characteristics of the culture.

그럼 오늘도 행복 가득, 웃음 가득한 하루 되세요! 한국어 화이팅, 화이팅, 화이팅!!