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Rejuvenating Korea: Policies for a Changing Society

image of Rejuvenating Korea: Policies for a Changing Society

Korean families are changing fast. While birth rates remain low, Koreans are marrying and starting a family later than ever before, if at all. Couple-with-children households, the dominant household type in Korea until recently, will soon make up fewer than one quarter of all households. These changes will have a profound effect on Korea’s future. Among other things, the Korean labour force is set to decline by about 2.5 million workers by 2040, with potential major implications for economic performance and the sustainability of public finances. Since the early 2000s, public policy has changed to help parents reconcile work and family commitments: Korea has developed a comprehensive formal day-care and kindergarten system with enrolment rates that are now on par with the Nordic countries. Korea also has one year of paid parental leave for both parents, but only about 25% of mothers and 5% of fathers use it, as workplace cultures are often not conducive to parents, especially fathers, taking leave. Cultural change will take time, but this review suggests there also is a need for additional labour market, education and social policy reform to help Koreans achieve both work and family aspirations, and contribute to the rejuvenation of Korean society.

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Families, family life and family policy in flux

Korean families are changing fast. Fertility is low and falling rapidly. Koreans are marrying and starting families later than ever before. Couple‑with‑children households, the dominant household type in Korea until only recently, will soon make up fewer than one-quarter of all households. The Korean population, still one of the OECD’s youngest, will soon be among its oldest.This chapter provides an outline of the many ways in which families are changing in Korea. It covers developments in demographics and family structure, shifts in attitudes towards marriage, parenthood, family, gender roles, and changes in Korean public support for the family, with particular emphasis on changing financial supports.

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