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The Incomplete Career Path of Korean Women

working mom

In The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter takes issue the promise that women can have it all.

Recently, the issue concerning the re-employment of women has become a topic of debate in South Korea. Following this issue, the term “the woman with career discontinuity” continues to spread throughout Korean society. According to the Herald Business and the Korean Women’s Development Institute, the reasons for women’s career discontinuity are marriage (46.9%), infant care (24.9%), and pregnancy/childbirth (24.2%). The average duration of a woman’s career discontinuity is 9.7 years and if they seek employment again, they are usually given temporary positions.

This issue would not be of great significance if it was arising as an outcome of individuals’ decisions. However, the fact that more than half of the married women experience career discontinuity indicates that the systems in society or social atmosphere are responsible for this issue. It is very common for women to pursue higher education in Korea thus, not only do they attend college but they strive toward graduate education as well. Nevertheless, because of the reality of a patriarchal environment which carries much traditional value in ancient Korea is still prevalent, working mothers may be seen as unfaithful mothers. Thus, as women get married or give birth, they end their careers in order to direct their focus towards their home and children. Aside from this cultural influence, challenging working environments such as the male-centered working systems and employment benefits such as maternity leave has an impact on the women as they try to balance their work and family life.

Although women return to the workforce of Korean society, they have difficulty getting full-time regular positions. Moreover, women cannot reap benefits of increased wage that come from continuous working years due to their career discontinuity. This phenomenon is what has placed Korea’s gender wage gap the biggest among OECD countries.

Women’s conflict between work and family life that arises from their desire to participate at all levels in the social and economic lives has an impact on the low birth rate (1.19 children per woman) in Korea. The low birth rate can lead to a decrease in the working population; thus, negatively influencing the nation’s economy.

The government exerts effort to come up with countermeasures that offer free childcare and part-time jobs for women. In the way that women’s career discontinuity affects nation’s level as well as individual’s level, practical and tangible countermeasures need to be established carefully and public consensus also has to be formed.

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