Pandemic hurt women workers more than men

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Pandemic hurt women workers more than men

Activists hold a performance in front of the Sejong Center in central Seoul, Monday, urging for solutions on the gender age gap. [YONHAP]

Activists hold a performance in front of the Sejong Center in central Seoul, Monday, urging for solutions on the gender age gap. [YONHAP]

The coronavirus pandemic last year took a larger toll on female workers in Korea than it did on men, according to government statistics and think tanks.
 
Last year, the number of employed women in the country declined by 137,000 on year, according to a Friday government report, far more than the 82,000 male jobs lost. 
 
According to a survey by the Korean Women’s Development Institute published Monday, one out of five women who participated in the survey lost her job after the Covid-19 outbreak. A total of 3,007 female workers aged between 20 and 59 participated in the survey.  
 
Among survey respondents that lost their jobs or were forced to take leave during the pandemic, four out of 10 said female workers, pregnant employees or workers on parental leave were among the first in their workplace to be affected by layoffs or leaves.
 
“This proves that restructurings were gender-discriminative, as in previous economic recessions,” the report said.
 
The survey showed that women in their 20s and 30s had a higher percentage of losing jobs during the pandemic. Nearly 30 percent of respondents in their 20s and 19.5 percent in their 30s said they became jobless after the Covid-19 outbreak. The percentages for women in their 40s and 50s age group were smaller at 18.4 and 18.5 percent, respectively.
 
Both reports pointed out that female workers were more prevalent in service industries like retail, food and education that typically involve face-to-face interaction. That made them more vulnerable in a downturn.
 
Because these industries are filled with small companies, it was more likely that employers wouldn’t offer paid leaves or pay unemployment benefits—the kind of support common at larger, more established firms.
 
Cultural norms also played a role.
 
“As schools and kindergartens shut down, women mainly took on the responsibility of childcare and this led to situations where they voluntarily chose to leave the workplace,” said the government report.  
 
“At a time when digital businesses are growing, the proportion of women that graduate with engineering degrees in this country remains small— and that’s holding back an increase of jobs for female workers.”
 
The Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), a lobbying group for local companies, stressed the importance of increasing the female workforce, saying it could be a core solution to Korea's shrinking population and aging society. Korea’s fertility rate reached a new low last year of 0.84.  
 
According to FKI’s analysis of OECD statistics, Korea was to have the highest old-age support ratio among OECD countries by 2080. And yet, its female labor participation rate was lower than the OECD average by 5 percentage points at 60 percent.  
 
The female labor participation rate fell drastically from 71.8 percent in the age group of 25 to 34 years, to 62.9 percent in the 35-to-44-year age group. The FKI pointed out that career interruptions due to marriage and having children was the biggest obstacle to female workers keeping their positions at work.  
 
“Cases where female labor participation is currently high -- like England, Germany, France and Sweden -- show that fertility rates dropped in the first few years when the female workforce started going up,” the FKI report said.  
 
“But as working conditions for women improve and the female labor participation rate surpasses 60 percent, it showed that fertility rates started going up again. Statistics show that an increase in economically active women can contribute to birth rates and population.”
 
In a Monday message marking International Women’s Day, President Moon Jae-in remarked Korea’s reality is “embarrassing” when it comes to female leadership.  
 
“Recovery and growth will be accelerated once women in this country get more jobs without career interruptions,” he said. “The government will lead efforts to be an exemplar case.”
 
The government has dedicated a portion of an extra budget to create 77,000 jobs for female workers this year. That bring the goal of female job positions newly created this year to 780,000.  
 
BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joonagng.co.kr]
 
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