Hwang Kyu-ran, left, an office worker in Seoul, visits his son hospitalized with enteritis at a medical institution in Seoul. Many working women are struggling from a lack of freedom to balance their careers and family life and Korea's widening pay gap between men and women makes things worse. / Korea Times photo by Ko Young-kwon
Gender pay gap costing dual-income families dearly
By Kim Tong-hyung
Policymakers, alarmed over the country's microscopic birth rate, are scrambling to encourage working women to have more babies. However, the widening pay gap between men and women appears to be rendering the efforts irrelevant.
Korea's gender pay gap is the worst among the developed nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), official figures show, ridiculing all the bureaucratic talk about promoting equal pay.
This costs dual-income families dearly as they are only slightly better off than households depending on one income and struggle just as much to cope with childcare burdens.
Lee Ji-seon, an economist from the LG Economic Research Institute (LGERI), claims that the financial advantage dual-income families have over single-income families is just 15 percent, considering the longer hours devoted to their careers and the less amount of time available for housework and children.
According to Lee's estimate, the average dual-income family with children will have to spend about 700,000 won more per month than households with single income sources as they often need to hire nannies and other domestic help.
"Women choosing to double as mothers and income earners are under massive stress, as even in dual-income families, mothers usually take on most of the responsibilities for childcare. In comparison, men in dual-income and single-income families spend basically the same amount of time combined on work, housework and children", Lee said.
"Parents in dual-income families in Korea, the United States and Japan all spend a similar amount of time combined, working for their employers and their families, at around 10 hours per day. But parents in Japanese dual income families spend around 4.8 hours a day doing housework and attending to the children, and the same parents in the U.S. spend 4.5 hours. Koreans, on the other hand, have just 3.7 hours to handle their chores at homes as the working hours at companies here are longer than just about any other developed nation".
Less than the sum of parts
The gender pay gap for men and women doing work of equal value is at 38.9 percent in Korea, according to statistics from OECD's Gender Initiative report for this year, more than double the OECD average of 15.8 percent.
Apparently, there is less incentive for families to have dual-income earners here and the numbers signify this. About 43.6 percent of Korean households are depending on dual income earners, dramatically less than the OECD average of 57 percent.
And about 43 percent of income earners in dual-income families here are couples running shops and other independent businesses, which are more precarious to the trends on consumption and economic activity.
"A large chunk of working age women remained sidelined from payrolls. Among dual-income families here, the proportion of wage-earning couples will probably be a lot lower than those in other countries", Lee said.
Korea currently has one of the lowest birth rates among maturing economies, with its 2010 figure standing at 1.22 births per woman, well below the 1.71 average of OECD.
The widening pay gap between men and women is also extending the country's inability to take advantage of the glut in its female workforce. When couples get to discuss how they are going to afford childcare, it's normally the wife who stays at home.
Government figures confirm that women in their 30s are dropping out of the workplace at an alarming rate and their lack of freedom in setting a work-life balance has been identified as the culprit.
Economic activity among women aged between 25 and 29 was measured at 69.8 percent in 2010. However, the figure dropped dramatically to 54.6 percent for women aged between 30 and 34, the pressure of working long hours and a lack of maternity support taking a toll on mothers with young children.
In recent years, government officials here have worked hard to introduce family-friendly policies, such as expanding tax benefits, providing longer maternity leave and establishing more daycare places for children of working mothers. But the effects of such changes have been subdued, thanks in part to a large number of companies reluctant to make significant changes to their working environment.
The Korea Employers Federation, an influential business lobby, went as far as to claim that the government efforts to boost births were putting too much pressure on the finances of firms, which may prevent them from hiring women.
Source : www.koreatimes.co.kr/... ( English Korean )
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