How Do Koreans Spend Their Free Time?

The latest public data show how Koreans prefer to spend their leisure free time on the weekends and holidays.

The breakdown: Take a look at the data according to sex, education and income levels, age, marital status, and Seoul district. Find out what roles Korea’s unique competitive culture and history play in how Koreans approach their hobbies.

  • HAN GANG MAGAZINE took public data from Seoul Open Data Plaza and found that the top leisure weekend/holiday activities for Koreans are screen device usage, outdoor recreation, and religious activities. 
  • Part 1 displays the data by each parameter. Part 2 ponders the cultural drivers behind these numbers (be sure to mouse over the Seoul District graph to interact).

By Sex

By Age

By Education Level

By Income Level

By Marital Status

By Seoul District

Beyond the numbers: It is worth putting these numbers into deeper context. 

No room for losers: Korea’s hypercompetitive achievement culture seeps into its hobby and leisure culture.

  • Any new foreigner living in Korea may at first be shocked at Koreans’ monohobbyist culture — Koreans often attach themselves to a singular hobby or pursuit, as opposed to casual engagement or recreation seen in the West.
  • As a result, hobbies in Korea often become just another avenue to overachieve, gain recognition, stand out, and climb the social ladder.

Yes, but: Koreans are increasingly engaging in recreational activities as a means of escape, bucking the social pressure to compete at everything and classify themselves within a strict hierarchy. 

Screen devices dominate as a hobby among Koreans of all ages. 

  • More than just a leisure device, computer and PC gaming is an expression of national competitiveness
  • On the other hand: A recent survey by Statista found that 56% of gamers cite spending time with friends as their main reason for visiting one of Korea’s ubiquitous “PC bangs”.
  • Flashback: PC bangs in Korea got their start in the 1990s, driven by the overwhelming popularity of Starcraft. High-end PCs combined with cheap broadband Internet and a comfortable casino-like atmosphere (full-service cafe, no clocks) evolved PC bangs into social gathering spots.
  • E-sports has become more than just a pastime in Korea. For young Koreans, becoming a professional gamer is now a legit career. Being a pro gamer is often cited as a top 10 job choice. 

Outdoor recreation has become a national identity in Korea. Any newbie expat in Korea will notice the herds of older Koreans riding the subway on the weekend in brightly colored hiking gear costing up to thousands of dollars on their way to a Seoul mountain.

  • Look good, feel good: Brands such as K2, Black Yak, Kolon Sport, Columbia, and North Face have made record sales in Korea for years, and sales of outdoor hiking brand gear has soared during the COVID pandemic. 
  • Wider picture: Luxury clothing and design brands have always treated Korea as a bit of a special case, regularly hiking prices during global economic downturns, while reducing them in every other country. 
  • Driven by: Social pressure continues to drive the popularity of hiking, whether to satisfy or avoid it.

Religion: Korea has a very long, complex history with religion, with a strange combination of Western Christianity, Chinese Buddhism, and Korean traditional Shamanism. 

  • While Christianity has a long, sordid history in Asia, it readily established itself (and was well received) in Korea after the Korean war.
  • Shamanism and superstition remain ever present aspects of Korean culture, even in daily life. Professional Tarot card readers can be found in popular shopping districts, with young students lined up outside waiting for their fortune.
  • A mixed bag: Major aspects of Korean shamanism continue to be incorporated even into Christian rituals. Ancestor worship is still regularly practiced by Korean Christians.
  • Bizarre history: Former Korean President Park Geun-Hye was removed from office in disgrace after it came to light she was being controlled by a Korean shaman running a $70 bribery fund. Oh, there was a male gigolo involved as well.

The bottomline: As a relative monoculture, data coming from South Korea offer unique insights into its history and culture, even if it’s on something as seemingly mundane as weekend hobbies.


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