Keep women working

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Keep women working

Women are expected to outnumber men in South Korea next year. According to the national statistics office, the female population will reach 25.31 million next year, compared with 25.3 million men. It would be the first time women outnumber men since the census began in 1960. This is partly because there are more women among senior citizens, and the life expectancy for women is 84.4 years, while for men it’s 77.6 years. Meanwhile, the working population aged between 15 and 64 is declining.

Such data points to a simple solution to our problems. Women’s participation in economic activities is lacking. The work force participation rate for women was 55.2 percent in 2012, well below the 62.3 percent average for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. For women with college degrees, the participation rate was 62.4 percent, compared to the OECD average of 82.6 percent. Women who quit work after marriage or childbirth totalled 4.06 million.

The nonparticipation ratio was 37.1 percent among women in their 20s - similar to that of men in the same age group - but shot up to 44 percent when women reached their 30s, compared to 6.7 percent for men. Highly educated women are wasted even though the country is short of a working population. The Korea Women’s Development Institute estimates the economic cost of women leaving the work force is 15 trillion won ($13.5 billion) a year.

Drawing more women back into the work force is needed not just to solve the gender-equality problem, but for the country’s competitiveness. Fertility rates won’t shoot up just because the government campaigns for it. It is better and wiser to bring back educated and experienced women who have been forced to stay home because of family duties. The state, corporate sector and society all must cooperate to provide incentives such as flexible hours, telecommuting and part-time work. Families must break out of the outdated mind-set that child care, education and housework are the responsibilities of women in order to create a fairer and more practical social environment in which both women and men can manage work and family. The corporate culture also must change. Women remain at a disadvantage in recruitment, appointments and promotions. The glass ceiling that blocks women from moving up is one of the most formidable among OECD countries. We must reflect on why there are so many Korean women working at multinational companies. The female work force is the key to the country’s competitiveness at a time when our population is on the decline. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 24, Page 30

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