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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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The work/family balance in Korean workplaces

This chapter discusses how the highly segmented labour market shapes work‑life balance issues in Korea. It shows that women are over-represented in non‑regular and low‑wage employment, which provides limited coverage to maternity and parental leave benefits. Long working hours also challenge work/life balance issues, especially in conjunction with the often considerable commutes and the prevailing “socialising after work culture”. The chapter discusses recent measures to retain women in the labour market, help them return to work after a long interruption, and/or reduce excessive working hours. Policies which could help achieve a better balance between work and family life include: i) increasing the use of maternity and parental leave; ii) expanding opportunities to work part‑time; iii) promoting greater working time flexibility; iv) tackling discrimination effectively; and v) strengthening affirmative measures to promote gender equality in employment.

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