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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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Rejuvenating Korea: Policies for a Changing Society

This chapter provides an overview of the main findings from the review. It briefly illustrates changes in Korean society, in Korean households, in marriage, and in fertility. It discusses the role of various factors such as the fierce competition to get ahead in education, and at a later stage, to get access to the best jobs, the strong division in the labour market between regular workers with job security and low‑paid, non‑regular workers, and issues around affordable housing. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the dynamic Korean policy response, which includes the rapid development of an extensive Early Childhood Education and Care system that is widely used and a parental leave system that is not. The chapter ends with a summary of policy recommendations that may contribute to a rejuvenation of Korean society.

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