Our working moms need helpSome surprising news came out of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently. The international organization ranked the welfare of Korea’s women and families the lowest among 34 major global economies.
The OECD’s latest survey found that Korea’s average fertility rate per household is only 1.15, the lowest in the group; its female employment rate is ranked 28th; and the government’s financial support for child care accounts for only one-fourth of the OECD average.
A domestic survey showed similarly dim results. The Korean Women’s Development Institute found that Korea’s expenditure on family needs was the lowest among OECD members. While Korea spent only 0.57 percent of the GDP on family needs, other developed countries such as the U.K. and France spent more than 3 percent of their GDPs on such needs.
This problem is not new but it is increasingly becoming a problem for the economy. Korea simply cannot expect to flourish with one of the most rapidly aging societies and with the lowest birthrate. Furthermore, the low employment rate of women is stifling the national economy here. One study found that if the women’s employment rate grew by 1 percent, the per capita GNP would increase by 1 percent.
The problems of the low birthrate and low female employment are interconnected and must be tackled simultaneously. The work environment in Korea with long working hours and little vacation time makes raising children difficult.
There is also a pervasive prejudice against working mothers that makes it hard for women to get jobs. It it not uncommon for employers to discourage pregnancy because of the time employees would have to take off from work. Given this work climate, it is not surprising women frequently postpone marriage and are unwilling to have children.
The only solution to this problem is better support for working mothers from companies so that women can pursue their careers and child rearing at the same time. Above all, businesses and the government should help women balance their time at work and at home by reducing their working hours. They also need to adopt flexible systems that will enable women to work from home or with staggered hours. Needless to say, the government and companies should increase high-quality child care facilities for struggling working mothers. They must wake up and make real efforts to change before it’s too late.