A once strongly patriarchal society, South Korea’s, traditional role of women is being challenged in current times. Kim Jung-hee, an office worker in Seoul, is a typical working mother in Korea. She gets up at 6:30 a.m. to prepare breakfast for the whole family and help her husband get ready for work.
After sending off her husband, Kim leaves home with her 20 month-old son and drops him off at the nursery before rushing off to her office. After grabbing a quick bite, Kim utilizes her lunch time to do grocery shopping for that day’s dinner. Kim usually returns home from work at around 8 p.m. After dinner, she plays with her young son until he goes to bed.
As many women are working mothers, many children have been raised by their grandmothers. Most working mothers feel guilt towards their children, feeling their education is being neglected
Although the proportion of females involved in economic activity has gradually been increasing, many women quit their job due to the burden of childcare every year, either voluntarily or against their will due to the fact that most Korean companies avoid hiring women with children. For Korean women, it is difficult to maintain a proper balance between work and family, leading to falling birthrates and the early retirement of female workers. Concerns are being raised in regards this phenomena, as extremely low birth rate and interruptions in women’s careers due to childbirth and child-rearing will have detrimental effects on the economic and societal development of South Korea.
According to a survey conducted by the Samsung Economic Research Institute last year, Korea’s public policy for supporting working mothers appears to be close to the OECD average, but its shortcomings are seen in low usages of maternity protection programs, unsatisfying childcare services, and little government help for working mothers with school-age children.
Korean women participating in the labor force was at 53.9 percent, lower than the OECD average of 61.5 percent. A big factor can be placed on Korea’s corporation culture. Although legally, women are given up to one year of subsidized parental leave, this is made virtually impossible because of the intense peer pressure from superiors and coworkers. “The longer leave they take, the less likelihood of getting their old job back, even though it is illegal,” said Yoo Gye-sook, an associate professor of family studies at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. Forcing women to choose between family and career has caused South Korea to have the world’s lowest birth rate for three years running, according to the U.N. World Health Organization.
For South Korean women, choosing to have children usually means falling off the career track. There is a 30 percent employment gap between men and women, the fourth-largest gap in the world after Turkey, Mexico, and Greece. Even if women choose to stay on the job, they have no guarantees of career advancements.
It is fair to say that the female workforce in South Korea is increasing. Hence, the issue of balancing work and family is now more than a personal dilemma. Therefore, there is a need for the state and local autonomous bodies to share a greater social responsibility to facilitate child birth and child care. Also, placing more emphasis on corporations which also need to develop a family-friendly management program for its employees.