Women struggle with balancing work, familyLast March, a woman, who asked to only be identified by her surname, Yang, left her job of two years after four months of marriage. She says that she had fallen ill because of the stress and fatigue of balancing her job and house work. Ms. Yang says it was like working two full-time jobs, plus overtime.
A few months later, after she had recovered her health, she tried to re-enter the workforce. “Whenever I apply for a job I am asked what I plan to do after having children,” she says. “From time to time, I regret resigning my position a few months ago. I should have kept my job, even though I was ill at that time.
“Most of my female friends give up their jobs in order to raise their children,” she adds. “Marriage and giving birth are obstacles to women’s careers.” Like Ms. Yang, 6 out of 10 working women in Korea quit their jobs after marrying, according to government statistics. And for married women seeking jobs, personnel directors acknowledge that the chance of finding work is much slimmer than for single women.
Kim Wu-yong, a professor at Kongju University in South Chungcheong province, interviewed 3,246 women aged 25 to 64 about their working lives after marriage. All of the women had at least one child. Among the women who worked before getting married, 62 percent resigned after their nuptials, the Korea Labor Institute reported.
Mr. Kim’s survey also reveals that a married woman has just a 16.4 percent chance of finding a full-time job, which is 11.2 percentage points lower than the 27.6 percent chance of a single woman finding full-time work. According to Mr. Kim’s findings, 34.8 percent of women aged 25 to 34 work full-time before marriage, while just 19.7 percent in the same age group work at all after marriage. Married women who had not held a full-time job before marriage have only a 1.7-percent chance of finding work.
Most of the women polled by Mr. Kim ― 58.3 percent ― say that they quit their jobs either after they became pregnant or after they gave birth. The percentage of women who work after giving birth drops to 15.4 percent compared to 24.1 percent before having children.
Mr. Kim and the labor institute say the study shows that marriage and child rearing are major roadblocks to women maintaining their careers, and these obstacles make it nearly impossible for women looking to launch careers.
The professor says, “The rate of female employment has become higher than in the past, but the rate of women working is still much lower than in many other countries. The result of this research displays that numerous women workers leave their jobs because of the demands of marriage and raising children. To solve this labor problem, coming up with a new and better system for allowing family leave is an urgent task for our society.”
As the declining birth rate has been highlighted as a looming demographic problem, the government has moved to provide working women with incentives to have children, such as offering subsidies to companies who give women paid time off for prenatal check-ups.
Mr. Kim notes that women in Canada and Sweden around 80 percent of women are in the work force, either part- or full-time.
But naysayers point out that the sky-high personal income tax rates necessary to support the social welfare programs in countries like Canada and Sweden are unlikely to take hold here.
So the question becomes, How can Korea get women like Ms. Yang to have children and keep on working?
Dr. Kim Ae-reong, a policy adviser with the Ministry of Gender Equality, says there are no easy solutions. But she is certain about the need to make changes to the current system, which she says implicitly discourages working mothers. “We must focus on helping women rear children while continuing to contribute to the economy,” she says. “Every effort must be made to provide budget support for programs to do this.” Dr. Kim suggests offering tax incentives in addition to appropriating money directly from the government budget to encourage mothers to work while helping them give their children proper care.
by Ha Hyun-ok, Park Yun-ji