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South Korea’s “Sampo Generation” Find Escape in Crypto Amid Rigid Society

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For many of South Korea’s millennials, cryptocurrency has proven the only way to escape the rigors of the country’s social demands.

Many of South Korea’s young are now calling themselves “dirt spoons”, a reference in South Korea to economic and social status, with gold and silver spoons being the best off and dirt spoons being the worst. Older Koreans refer to millennials as the “Sampo Generation” — literally, “three-giving up” generation — due to their rejection of courtship, marriage and family, the three essential elements of traditional South Korean society.

A generation of young South Koreans have sought out cryptocurrencies as a way of avoiding what they see as dead-end jobs and no future, which has created a huge crypto industry in the country as a result. It is an industry which has seen a total of USD 6.8 billion in cryptocurrencies changing hands in January alone, now becoming the world’s third largest market behind the US and Japan.

“There is no true opportunity in South Korea for the average young person,” said Kim Han-gyeol, 23, a part-time software developer for an e-book company. Kim lost money after making a large profit originally by investing in cryptocurrencies before the fall in the market.

“I felt a sense of shame when I lost money on my Bitcoin investments, not once but twice because of my greed to make a fortune in one go,” she said. But, she added, she’ll stick to digital coins. She said, “There is nowhere else to go to recover my losses anyway.”

Success for the young Koreans means a government position or a job at a small group of family-owned conglomerates selling products that South Koreans commonly purchase. Some of these positions even require a university education with only a handful of local institutions available to choose from; these are highly competitive, and often require long waits numbering years in order to secure a place.

With youth unemployment in South Korea running at 10.5% — the highest in Asia — it is not hard to see the attraction of cryptocurrency investment for many of the country’s young and unemployed.

The cryptocurrency industry has caused a huge wave of interest amongst South Korea’s millennials since 2017, and given time may spark the flame of a huge resurgence in East Asia in the coming months and years.


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