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You might think, “What kind of a question is that?” “Silverspoon” is a fairly new term, but it has been widely used in Korean society since 2015. It is a sarcastic metaphor to describe a financial/socioeconomic status of people in Korea. 은수저(eun-soo-jeo:a spoon made of silver) and 흙수저(huk-soo-jeo: a spoon made of mud) are, in fact, listed in Korean dictionaries.
What is a Spoon Class Theory?
Spoon class theory is recent, but an actual phenomenon in South Korea. Unfortunately, it is used to (culturally) categorize people by how successful their parents have been. For instance, if your parents are at a high socioeconomic status, then you would be likely be called as금수저 (geum-soo-jeo: a spoon made of gold, indicating 1% of wealthy and powerful people), or 은수저(eun-soo-jeo:a spoon made of silver).
It derives from an analogy of European nobles, who were fed with a silver spoon by their nannies. The more financially powerful your parents, the more valuable spoon you would be fed with. Therefore, it goes from a gold spoon, silver spoon, and bronze spoon to, finally, the least valuable spoon, so-called 흙수저(huk-soo-jeo: a spoon made of mud) Figuratively, then, if your parents are poor, you would likely get fed with 흙수저.
Why is this theory gaining popularity in Korean society?
부익부 빈익빈(boo-eek-boo bean-eek-bean: the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer) has been a common sentiment in Korean society for a while, but 주범(joo-bum: the main culprit) of this phenomenon is 청년실업(cheong-nyun-sil-up: the rate of young adult unemployment). Children who have wealthy and powerful parents can get a better paying job faster and easier than those who can’t get help from their parents. This social condition, on top of a stagnant economy, has been plaguing Korea for a long time.
What is the background culture of the Spoon Class Theory?
To a moderate extent, it is socially acceptable to get parents’ assistance, even for adult children. Married children may also get financial help from their parents if the parents can afford it. Having rich parents are seen as glorified and worshiped by media. For instance, some Korean parents are willing to purchase homes or cars for their young adult children. Or they will pay for their extended education since higher education is usually associated with promising careers. While this rule doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, wealth and social power are somewhat expected to be inherited to their children. I think this culture exists in many countries, but it is more prominent in Asian countries.
Because parental support in Korea is common, some can start building their life with a little easier and faster than those who can’t get help from their parents. Thus, some Koreans may believe that a person’s life can be affected by their parents’ socioeconomic status.
New Paradigm need to be implemented
There is a Korean proverb saying, 개천에서 용난다. (gae-chu-eeh-seo-yong-nan-dah: you can be successful if you work hard, even if you are from a poor household). However, this proverb may sound too outdated to some of you after knowing the spoon class theory. The phenomenon can be bleak, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be.
No one can choose his or her parents. One’s parents’ socioeconomic status shouldn’t be a major barometer to determine what kind of person he/she is. Instead of considering what kind of spoon I have, it is better to consider what kind of spoon I can make for myself to drive my own life. Furthermore, I believe that to be resilient in life and being wise in utilizing given resources whether they are bountiful or limited, are the keys to success. Life can throw a curveball to anyone at any time.
I cheer for many young people in Korea to have more courage in facing their reality, and to keep fighting for what they want in life. I also hope many people respect everyone’s capabilities regardless of the spoon they eat from.