South Korea's 65-plus population has seen a nearly fourfold increase in suicides in recent years, according to the New York Times. In 2000, 1,161 elderly Koreans committed suicide. In 2010, that number surged to 4,378 -- one of the highest elderly suicide rates in the develop world.
According to the Times' Choe Sang-hun, one reason for the desperation of South Korea's elderly is the fraying of a "Confucian social contract" where parents depleted their savings in an effort to propel their children into the world only to rely on those same children for care in their later years:
But as South Korea’s hard-charging younger generations joined an exodus from farms to cities in recent decades, or simply found themselves working harder in the hypercompetitive environment that helped drive the nation’s economic miracle, their parents were often left behind. Many elderly people now live out their final years poor, in rural areas with the melancholy feel of ghost towns.
Such social shifts are not uncommon in the industrialized world. But the sudden change has proved especially wrenching in South Korea, where parents view their sacrifices as the equivalent of a pension plan and where those who are suffering are falling victim to changes they themselves helped unleash as they rebuilt the economy from the devastation of the Korean War.