[Outlook]Employing women and seniors

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[Outlook]Employing women and seniors

The new school year has begun. Around 3,400 freshmen who have made it into Seoul National University, the country’s most prestigious, are busy preparing for their first year in college.

With more parents realizing the need to provide higher education for their daughters as well as sons, the number of female freshmen has been on the rise. This year, new female students exceed 40 percent of the intake.

Universities are trying to employ more female professors to match this trend, but even counting lecturers, women teachers account for less than 20 percent. Full-time female professors make up merely 10 percent.

Many female teachers have to take care of their households, bring up babies, educate children at home and support aging in-laws in addition to working actively. This makes it difficult for them to meet expectations at work as well.

As the young generation is afraid of the ever-mounting expenditure of bringing up and educating children, the birth rate has been falling, causing worries about shortage in the next generation’s workforce.

In our country, only 54 percent of women participate in economic activities, much lower than the 69 percent seen in the United States.

Women’s wages are around 70 percent of what men are paid. It is a pity that even highly educated women are tied up with house chores.

In 1970, life expectancy in our country was 62. It has increased by four to five years every decade and currently stands at 80.

In the past, at the age of 24, when one has lived 40 percent of an expected lifetime, one graduated from university, and at 55, after having lived 90 percent of an average lifetime, one retired.

After retirement one led a quiet life for five to six years before dying. But as industrialization has developed and life expectancy has increased, there is more waste and inefficiency.

Now, people finish their education at 32, after having lived 40 percent of an expected lifetime, and retire at 55, 70 percent of an average lifetime.

For some 20 years after retirement they are treated in ways that do not fit their education and knowledge. Then their lives end in hospitals.

To make things worse, two economic crises have shaken up trust in insurance schemes and funds, making life after retirement more insecure and worrisome.

The biggest concern among middle-aged people is what life will look like 20 years from now.

If there were an example to follow of an advanced, aging society, we would be able to use that as a model, but there is no such country as yet.

By 2030, a family of four will have one elderly member with no economic capacity.

Last year, the National Health Insurance Corporation announced that elderly citizens, who take up 10 percent of the entire population, spend 29 percent of total insurance expenditure.

That means the older one gets, the smaller the income, but the higher the expenditure.

We have nearly doubled our labor productivity over the past 10 years, but productivity decreases substantially after the age of 45.

In Korea, we have a seniority system in which a worker gets paid more the older he or she gets, up to the age of 55. That means for 10 years before retirement, workers are paid more than they are worth and companies want them to retire earlier than scheduled.

This vicious circle will surely make things worse for elderly citizens and the entire society.

In order to fill the shortage in the workforce and to further advance the development of our country, it is time to employ highly educated young women while reducing the burden on people of advanced age.

If aged workers receive proper training for preforming domestic work and child care, and if this can be developed into a new industry, more elderly people and a young, specialized workforce will be gainfully employed.

If a person can work in a pleasant atmosphere, earn a certain amount of income and pass down traditions to new generations, the 20 years of life after retirement will not be considered a waste.

If the administration and local governments take central roles to develop domestic work into an industry, supervise it thoroughly and provide aid in a transparent fashion, the industry has a good chance of becoming successful.

Cooperation between generations is a shortcut to becoming an advanced country and this industry can become a new growth engine that solves problems in an aging society.

*The writer is a professor of rural systems engineering at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Jung-jae
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