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Chasing two rabbits: can women in Korea balance work and family?

May 1, 2019


When Korea’s fertility rate fell to 1.08 in 2005, the government implemented programs to help women find a balance between their careers and family life. It has now been more than a decade since those efforts, but Korea’s female labor force participation rate has not improved from 60%. In addition, the fertility rate, which has been on a downward trajectory, hit a record low in 2017. What types of effects do the various policies of the government have with regard to improving the fertility rate and female labor force participation rate?

In Married Women’s Continued Participation in the Labor Market and Childbirth: Relevant Factors and Policy Implications (KDI Policy Forum No. 268), Inkyung Kim analyzed the current status and effectiveness of Korea’s typical work-family balance policies, focusing on maternity leave, parental leave, and shorter working hours. Kim employed the Korean Longitudinal Survey of Women and Family in this analysis. The study shows that work-family balance policies and their utilization levels are highly relevant to women’s career continuance and their plans for children.

The fact that parental leave for men in Korea ranks as the longest among OECD nations whereas the income replacement ratio is relatively low may be related to why only 13.4% of those on paid parental leave are men.

Maternity leave, which 84.6% of those eligible take, was found to have no significant effect on women continuing in the labor force. However, it was revealed that maternity leave raises women’s plans to have children by 3.0%p. When companies offered parental leave, it had no effect on pregnancy but raised women’s willingness to continue in the labor force by 4.0%p. On the other hand, compared to full-time jobs, part-time jobs reduced the likelihood that a woman would continue her economic activities. Nonetheless, workers who voluntarily took part-time jobs expressed stronger intentions to have children.

Kim also examined the impact of women’s household burdens on childbirth and on women continuing in the labor force. It was found that a 50%p increase in men’s housework hours can be predicted to increase the likelihood that women will continue to work by 3.5%p. Yet in Korea, while the total housework hours of dual-income households have decreased, little has changed in the past decade as women are still responsible for 80% of housework. 
 

To enhance the impact of work-family balance policies, employment insurance rate for women should be increased so that they become eligible for paid leave. In addition, Smart labor inspections should be expanded and strengthened so that workers can actually feel the effects of such policies. In the meantime, the government should make efforts to minimize employers’ negative perceptions about work-family balance policies, by promoting available subsidies. Lastly, men should be encouraged to take parental leave to enhance their participation in the home. To that end, policy measures such as providing practical incentives should be introduced. 
 
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The Department of Macroeconomics is conducting researches on the macro economy and macroeconomic policy, particularly focusing on suggesting the analysis of macroeconomic trends and current status of the economy at home and abroad, the economic forecast, and the policy direction of the macro economy. The Department is also in charge of establishing, sustaining and maintaining various econometric models, based on which it analyses policy effects and develops a long-term economic forecast.

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