In South Korea, for the benefit of the group, the ideal worker is expected to make personal sacrifices and work long hours. Indeed, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on average weekly working hours from 2000 to 2013 by country, South Koreans worked the longest paid hours in the developed world (49.7 average weekly working hours compared to the OECD average of 39.3; OECD, 2014). At the same time, according to the United Nation’s 2014 Human Development Report, only 49.9% of women compared to 72.0% of men were part of the paid labor force. Relatedly, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2014 World Gender Gap Report, South Korea ranked 124 in the world for extent of women’s economic participation and opportunity; significantly behind not only leading economies such as the United States, Germany, and United Kingdom, but also less developed economies such as Kazakhstan, Trinidad, and Uganda.
The relatively low participation of women compared to men in the paid labor force may be attributed to a number of reasons. That is, South Korean culture delineates a clear distinction between men and women’s family roles, with women primarily responsible for homemaking/caregiving and men for breadwinning. Therefore, the cultural expectation of long working hours in the paid labor force and related structure of the workplace may conflict with expectations about women’s family roles (e.g., supporting children’s academic achievements & character development), while remaining consistent with expectations about men’s family roles (e.g., providing financial resources). As a result, motherhood in South Korea tends to bring a withdrawal from paid work, while fatherhood tends to lead to greater engagement in paid work (Won & Pascall, 2004). For instance, women’s participation in paid work declined sharply (from more than 60% to less than 50%) during peak marriage and childbearing years (ages 20-34), while men’s participation increased sharply (from less than 60% to more than 90%) during these same years (National Statistical Office, 2001).
Due in part to the conflict between work structures and family expectations, women may increasingly delay or forego marriage as well as have on average fewer children. Overall, marriage delay and the decline in total fertility rate may be a reflection of increasingly educated women who face the dilemma of reconciling traditional family roles in the context of rapidly changing economies and associated work opportunities as well as constraints (Jones & Yeung, 2014).
This is a part of my working paper “Individual and Organizational Predictors of Men’s Housework in South Korea”