Unemployed graduates feeling the gender gap

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Unemployed graduates feeling the gender gap

Seo Hyun-jeong, 23, a senior at Sungkyunkwan University, is dealing with what she believes are dual disadvantages in her search for a job - one she was born to, and another she was blindsided by.

Her drawbacks, she says, are being female and being a rising college graduate.

And figures recently released by Statistics Korea back up her claim. The number of female college graduates without jobs hit a record high of 196,000 in February - a whopping 57.5 percent growth from the same month a year earlier, when the number stood at 124,000, and around 40 percent of the 459,000 women unemployed last month.

The number of unemployed male college graduates, while also gloomy, fell short of the ratio for the women. Even with record-high unemployment at 244,000, the number of male college graduates without jobs accounted for only 34.4 percent of the 709,000 men unemployed in February.

“When the economy is bad, we often see an increase in the youth unemployment, particularly in February, when many young people graduate and move into the labor force,” said an official at Statistics Korea.

“But it does seem to be worse for women than men.”

Sohn Min-jung, an economist at Samsung Economic Research Institute, explained that in the past most Korean women worked temporary jobs in low-paying fields, both from choice and because those were the ones most often available to them. Things have not changed much, even as women increase their education in hopes of getting better jobs, he said.

“We aware that there are some structural problems that could hinder women from getting jobs, and are working to fix the problems,” said an official of the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

But Seo didn’t need the experts to tell her that. The communications-economics double major said the experiences of her female peers were enough to tell her that many companies, while they wouldn’t admit it, still favor hiring male employees.

Because of that, more female students in her school’s communications department have opted to pursue academic careers, where there is less chance of gender bias than in the corporate world, she said.

Seo said graduating also limits her chances of getting a job, because a graduate who is not immediately employed is looked upon with disfavor by potential future employers. She said that was why she delayed graduating last month.

“I am afraid to have nothing to say when I am asked at job interviews what I did after graduation,” Seo said.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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