Perceived Trajectories of Past, Present, and Future Life Satisfaction of North Korean Defectors

  • Hyochul Lee
  • Haesoo Kim
  • Ji Hyun An
  • Kyoung Eun Lee
  • Hye In Chang
  • Su Yeon Lee-Tauler
  • Sook Young Woo
  • Carolyn Seungyoun Moon
  • Jin Pyo HongEmail author
Original Paper


This study compared perceived trajectories of life satisfaction (LS) between North Korean defectors’ (NKDs’) and the general South Korean population and examined psychosocial factors associated with future LS. Data were obtained from 300 NKDs residing in South Korea and 5089 South Koreans using self-questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. LS values from 5 years ago (3.46 vs. 6.18) and at present (5.30 vs. 5.91) were lower in NKDs than the control group, but the inverse was true for expected LS score in 5 years (7.82 vs. 6.87). NKDs’ LS trajectory showed a more statistically positive trend than that of the control group. Among NKDs, subjective sense of loneliness and satisfaction with one’s sense of autonomy were associated with expected future LS. NKDs experience higher life satisfaction and expect an optimistic future relative to the control group. Social policies and therapeutic approaches to loneliness and improving a sense of autonomy may be beneficial.


Acculturation Immigrant Life satisfaction North Korean defectors 



Brief Resilience Scale


WHO-Composite International Diagnostic Interview


Korean version of the WHO-Composite International Diagnostic Interview


Life satisfaction


Probability proportional to size without replacement


Connor–Davidson Resilience Scale


World Health Organization



We would like to acknowledge the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea for their support of data collection.


This work was supported by the Korea Healthcare Technology R&D project, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea [HM15C1072].

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

Written informed consent was obtained from all participants before conducting self questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. This study was conducted with the approval of institutional review board, the Samsung Seoul Hospital Clinical Research Committee.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Samsung Medical CenterSungkyunkwan University School of MedicineSeoulSouth Korea
  2. 2.Department of PsychologySungkyunkwan UniversitySeoulSouth Korea
  3. 3.Department of Mental HealthJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Statistics and Data Center, Samsung Medical CenterSeoulSouth Korea

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