South Korea is leading the World in Plastic Surgery per Capita


Image – Elise Hu/NPR

Plastic surgery is defined as the process of reconstructing and or repairing parts of the body through cosmetic medical procedures. According to a report published by Grand View Research, the plastic surgery industries market value is estimated to be worth USD 26.3 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach USD 43.9 billion by 2025. One of the biggest markets for plastic surgery is South Korea, where 980,313 operations were recorded in 2014. Although South Korea pales in comparison when it comes to the number to operations performed in other countries such as the USA which ranks first with over 4 million procedures recorded, when based on the population of South Korea, roughly 20 per 1,000 people have had undergone some sort of procedure, making South Korea the highest ratio of procedures per capita.


2014 Ranking Published by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery

The increasing popularity of plastic surgery in South Korea can be explained based on a number of factors such as increasing disposable income, improvements in medical technologies, and culture.

In terms of disposable income, South Korea’s economy has experienced exponential wealth where in the early 1960s, South Korea started off as a poor agriculture-based economy to becoming the 11th largest economy in the world in terms of gross domestic product as of 2016. Emphasizing on technology and high skilled manufacturing jobs, conglomerates such as Samsung have emerged from South Korea to become the leading world player in technologies such as cell phones, where TrendForce reports that Samsung at the end of 2017 had a 21.9 percent market share in the global smartphone market while Apple accounted for 15.2 percent of the market. According to a Trading Economics global macro models and analysts expectations, South Korea’s total households disposable income is projected to be around 1990908.26 KRW Billion, roughly USD 1,833.45 in 2020. With the incrementally increasing disposable income, a significant number of South Koreans are choosing to spend their money to undergo the knife.


Trading Economics, South Korea HDI Model

As South Korea’s nominal GDP improves, the medical industry has also naturally improved relatively. In the year 2000, a comprehensive health insurance called the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) was made compulsory and required by law by the Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea to enable eligible applicants to apply for a public insurance institution. Funded by compulsory contributions from residents and government subsidies, payment are made based on income and property. All those who meet the required eligibility and pay the contributions, even foreign nationals, disabled, and elderly, would have full access and coverage of the national healthcare. According to data published by Trading Economics, the total health expenditure per capita in South Korea was USD $32964 in 2014. 

With the population covered by NHIS, facilities focusing solely on plastic surgery have sprung up to meet the markets demands that the South Korean spend their disposable income on. Establishing itself as a reputable industry with the latest cutting edge medical technologies, foreigners in the form of medical tourists have started to visit South Korea for the sole purpose of undergoing a procedure.

Ever heard of K-Pop? If you haven’t, officially declare yourself as a vault dweller. The global pop music sensation is estimated to be worth USD 4 Billion industry and has shaped South Korean culture in a way that dominates every day thought. Pop idols with the perfect face, body, and aesthetic, have defined and established a standard for South Korean beauty, where admirers attempt to replicate with plastic surgery. South Korean culture has dictated that being beautiful comes with advantageous benefits, where society tends to be more inclined to look up to those attractive, thus encouraging those deemed “ugly” to undergo plastic surgery.

In conclusion, South Korea will likely continue to lead the world in plastic surgery with more and more choosing to alter their bodies in the name of aesthetic. Disregarding natural beauty in exchange for the perfect face and body, plastic surgery will continue to blur the line of how human beings truly look and we may in the near future, forget our true representations of ourselves and be confined to an ever-changing avatar.


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