Your Grown-Up Stress May Be Making Your Children Sick

Illnesses in children rise along with the stress levels of their parents, according to a new survey in Germany. Are households with two working parents sending more kids to the doctor?

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Guido Bohsem

MUNICH — In terms of staying healthy, for both parents and children, down time is the decisive factor. According to a survey conducted for AOK, the largest of Germany’s roughly 180 statutory health insurance funds, no other criterion impacts family happiness as much as stress in daily life.

And the amount of stress in families is increasing. In 2010, 41% of parents participating in the survey said they had too little free time, which caused them stress. Four years later, that figure is 46%. Stress is worse for families with children in grade school.

AOK head Jürgen Graalmann believes that one of the reasons for this is the growing number of households with two working parents. That makes organization harder. But another major cause of stress is of parents’ own making. Many middle-class moms and dads trying to provide advantages for their children get caught up in overscheduling them — and consequently themselves — in activities such as tutoring, sports and music classes.

Photo: Ryan Dickey

“Stressed parents tend more often to have children with health complaints,” Graalmann says. One in five German children displays symptoms of irritability, sleeping trouble, stomach or headaches, the survey shows. Some 24% of parents who feel squeezed for time have children with such complaints, whereas the figure is only 16% for parents with fewer time constraints.

Unsurprisingly, problems are worse for single parents. Some 17% of them described their own health as bad, and 35% said their health was so-so. In two-parent families, parental health difficulties were far rarer: Only 5% described their health as bad, and 25% as so-so.

But there is at least some good news. Fewer people reported physical, psychological, financial and partnership difficulties in this survey than in previous ones. Four years ago, for example, 33% described their financial situation as burdensome. Now, only 28% reported this, which the survey’s authors suggest could be linked to Germany’s economic growth over the past few years.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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