Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Korea's Youth Pass on Kimchi, Go for Pizza Hut ; A Youth-Oriented Culture Emerges in Korea's Cities, Prompting a Move Away from Traditional Financial Values

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Korea's Youth Pass on Kimchi, Go for Pizza Hut ; A Youth-Oriented Culture Emerges in Korea's Cities, Prompting a Move Away from Traditional Financial Values

Article excerpt

Tall, lanky Park Eun Chun shares a large cafe latte with his mom outside a Starbucks at Seoul's sprawling Coex Mall.

The 18-year-old Pusan native will soon start his freshman year at Korea University as a biology major, and he's been enjoying his winter break by hanging out with friends. And that means spending money: During the past month, he's seen five movies and eaten out at Pizza Hut, Burger King, and local Korean restaurants. It's a money ethic that makes his mom uncomfortable.

"They're spending thousands of won [a few dollars] on a single cup of coffee," she says. "Maybe it's because I'm from the provinces, but I'm still surprised to see they have enough money for that sort of thing."

South Korea's teens and 20-somethings are throwing off the Confucian values of thrift and self-sacrifice to become the nation's most influential consumer force.

"The traditional value system in Korea was based on working hard, saving a lot, and preparing for the future," says Cho Sang Hyun, a consultant at the Bain & Co. consulting firm in Seoul. "But the new generation has the feeling that they should enjoy things while they are still young." And, Mr. Cho marvels, "they don't feel guilty about it."

Korea's shift to a more youth-oriented consumer culture is changing the tenor of city life in Seoul. Myongdong and Dongdaemun, two of the capital city's oldest shopping districts, have repackaged themselves to appeal directly to young people's sense of fun, luring them with gleaming video-game arcades, outdoor stages for live dance acts, and the omnipresent beat of Korean pop music.

Round-the-clock convenience stores - an innovation relatively late to catch on in South Korea - have mushroomed in number on the back of a predominantly young customer base looking for quick snacks on the run. New multiplex cinemas do brisk business as a young movie- going audience laps up the latest offerings from a revitalized local film industry. And foreign fast-food chains, including McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and KFC, are adding new locations by the dozens every year, driven almost completely by demand among teens and 20- somethings.

A confluence of social trends has elevated young Koreans to their newfound status as consumer trendsetters, observers say. …

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